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|China Weekly: A China case study: Bottled water adds to food safety problems, 14 May 2013|
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The Gu Kailai case – follow the script
The seven-hour hearing in Hefei of the case against Gu Kailai achieved its immediate purpose – she pleaded guilty, the defence stayed silent and Bo Xilai’s name was not mentioned. So the separation of the death of Neil Heywood from top-level politics, which has been the bottom line all along, as we argued in earlier posts, has gone according to the script. All that remains is to learn what sentence is handed down on Gu and the others in the dock – most probably a death sentence commuted on grounds of mental instability and because she was acting to protect her son.
But that that is not the end of the story.
Bo awaits his fate. First, there is the matter of what happens to Bo himself. This needs to be decided before the Communist Party holds its five-yearly congress at the end of the year. The probability is that he will be found guilty of disciplinary offences by the Party Commission and shunted sto some form of house arrest. By sidelining him, the other leaders have got rid of an awkward colleague and taken the opportunity to launch a fresh drive for unity, embracing the army as well as the Communist Party ahead of the Party Congress at the end of this year.
The process of the law. Second, and perhaps more important, is where this affair leaves the Chinese legal system. The evidence produced in the Hefei courtroom was voluminous enough but it contained more than its fair share of holes – for instance dating the relationship between Heywood and the Bos from 2005 whereas the businessman had been in contact with them earlier while Bo held posts in the north-east. Mentioning that would have made it tough to keep him out of the tale, however. It was not explained how precisely Heywood had been able to detain. the Bos’ son in Britain or why he would fly to Chongqing if he had fallen out with the family of the man who ran the place. Nor was it explained how the Bos could get into such a high-priced business project as the one over which Gu and Heywood are said to have fallen out when the patriarch in the Politburo was on an official salary equivalent to US$20,000 a year.
Playing her part. But such matters are of little import now. The ceremony which the authorities required in order to get their approved version of what happened has taken place and the accused, as is required in such cases, has submitted to the judgment of the rulers. For his part, Bo will be expected to show proper gratitude for his appointed role of the husband dedicated to his work who failed to keep proper tabs on his mentally unstable wife. The development of Chongqing and foreign investment in it will not be harmed and Bo’s “red songs” will fade into the sunset.
So the case provides yet another illustration of the way in which the law in China is framed and applied to serve an overarching political purpose; after all, judges are now required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Party and have been told that their prime duty is to strengthen it. No surprise there, but a useful reminder for anybody doing business in China.