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Lessons from the Bo Xilai trial
The sentencing of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai to life in prison ends an episode which brought extraordinary focus on to the extent of high level corruption in the world's emerging superpower.

Mr Bo was found guilty of accepting bribes despite his colourful testimony denying all charges in court a few weeks ago.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: The sentencing of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai to life in prison ends an episode which brought extraordinary focus on to the extent of high level corruption in the world's emerging superpower.

Mr Bo was found guilty of accepting bribes, despite his colourful testimony denying all charges in court a few weeks ago.

Dali Yang is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Dali Yang, good to be talking to you.

PROF DALI YANG, POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: It is my pleasure.

JIM MIDDLETON: Is this the last we'll see or hear of Bo Xilai, do you think?

PROF DALI YANG: Certainly not. There are a lot of interesting issues related to, first of all, the case itself to what extent it might affect the rule of law in China. Secondly, his career provokes a lot of lessons about China's political system and so on. His policies are also interesting. So in various respects people will be pondering this case for a long time to come.

JIM MIDDLETON: During his decade in office, Hu Jintao got rid of a few of his rivals. Are Xi Jinping's rivals, Bo's supporters, now also at risk as a consequence of what happened at this trial?

PROF DALI YANG: I think first of all among the top leaders, the nine people on the Politburo on the Standing Committee before the current leadership was inaugurated, a number of them actually visited Chongqing, including in fact, even among colleagues, even Mr Xi Jinping visited Chongqing.

In that sense it is interesting that most of the top leaders did not object formally what was happening in Chongqing. They could have worked with Bo Xilai even though he may not have been well liked by certain people. So it's really the premier and former general secretary, President Hu Jintao, these two people did not visit Chongqing and issue their endorsement of what Mr Bo was doing. But of course they were not necessarily in the majority. So had this case not happened, had Mr Bo been kept in the party and was eligible to join the very top elite, he might have joined the Politburo Standing Committee and kept the size of the Politburo Standing Committee at nine, and then he would be one of the nine.

JIM MIDDLETON: Back to the trial itself. Would Bo have received a shorter sentence, a lighter sentence, if he'd played the traditional Chinese game, that is, if he had not offered such a strong defence of his actions when he was in court?

PROF DALI YANG: I think that's likely, because under Chinese law, typically Continental law system with more of a sort of a inquisitional style of court proceedings, generally there is the argument that if you're more willing to confess, to plead guilty, you are supposed to be treated more leniently. So attitude-wise, he is considered to be defiant, fighting for himself, so, therefore, he's not going to be given points for being actually sort of repentant.

JIM MIDDLETON: The Bo trial was remarkably open by Chinese standards. Did the Chinese leadership, though, have any other option given the level of scepticism in China about the rule of law or was the transparency designed to undermine Bo's popularity, his credibility?

PROF DALI YANG: I think there is the issue, first of all, some of the higher level trials in the past have not been very open. Of course in many countries court proceedings are not open to the public, not open to the cameras, and so on, so it's not unusual. But at the same time, we knew that the trial of Bo Xilai's life, Gu Kailai, the trial of Wang Lijun, those trials took plates without revealing a lot of details. So by the time people got to see the results, there was an element of scepticism of what happened in the court. You cannot believe the reports sometimes because of the nature of the Chinese media.

So the openness with the proceedings, the issuance of the transcripts of the arguments and the defence, is remarkable in this case for someone of this stature. It really improves the level of transparency in the Chinese legal system. But it really helps the leadership, the government, to win credibility not only domestically but internationally, because the Chinese leaders do care about being seen as promoting the rule of law. It's an irony but it's a good irony I think that his trial he pleaded for the rule of law for good court proceedings. And he acted in a way and his trial itself actually is a good step in that direction.

JIM MIDDLETON: Dali Yang, we'd better leave it there. Thank you very much.

PROF DALI YANG: It's my pleasure and it's good to be connected to Australia.
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