Gu might be guilty but this is not a real trial. What does it tell us about the power struggle in China? Gu and a household aide, Zhang Xiaojun, have been charged with murder of a British businessman Neil Heywood.
1. Does this trial say us something about the current regime in China in your opinion? And BTW, can we expect Gu Kailai will be sentenced to death?
2. As China is somehow in the transition of power would you say that this case had any real impact on this?
Andrew Nathan, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, Author of numerous books about China and East Asia
1. Last year, the central authorities were conducting an investigation of corruption in Liaoning (where Bo Xilai used to serve) and Chongqing (where Bo Xilai was then serving), and this tells us a lot about the nature of the current regime — that there has been an intense power struggle. This investigation led to an unexpected chain of events — the flight of Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. Consulate-General in Chengdu, his revelation to the Americans that the death of Neil Heywood was a murder, and therefore, the necessity to hold a trial. In other words, the trial itself is a kind of political accident, not really integral to the power struggle.
From another angle, we can say that the way the trial is conducted does show us something about the current regime. Even assuming that Gu is guilty (as I suppose she is), the verdict and sentence are fixed in advance, and is not what we in the west would consider a real trial.
2. It seems that the power transition will go ahead on schedule despite this event, and Xi Jinping will succeed Hu Jintao as previously expected. The impact of the Bo Xilai case on the power transition is twofold. First, Bo himself will not be promoted. Second, it appears that Hu Jintao will continue on as chair of the Central Military Commission for a year or two. This might have happened anyway, since Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin did the same thing in 2002-2004. But the fear of instability created by the Bo case has increased the support for the idea that Hu should stay on in this post for a time.
David Goodman, Professor of Chinese Politics, University of Sydney
1. The trail tells us many things about the current regime, but nothing that is not already clear: it is not an open transparent process and almost no one in China will trust the procedings let alone how they assess the outcomes.
We can expect the death sentence for Gu Kailai, but I would be surprised if it were not commuted to life imprisonment of some kind.
2. Yes. This trial is everything to do with politics at the highest level, not just about personalities but also about the speed and direction of reform.
Strangely enough though Bo Xilai has been portrayed by some in the leadership as a Cultural Revolution restorationist it is also extremely likely that he supports more open politics.
Kerry Brown, Head of the Asia Programme, Chatham House
1. I guess the trial shows that some things haven’t changed about the behaviour of the political elite in China and the very ruthless and brutal way in which they behave. I doubt that Gu will be executed, as this would set a bad precedent – probably suspended death sentence which equates to life imprisonment.
2. I guess the impact of trial will be to see if there is real meaning to this idea of moving to rule of law in china. However, so far the whole process has been highly political and that shows that, just like in the past, in China politics is always in charge!