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Bo downfall a test for China political system: analysts
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 11, 2012

Timeline of Chinese leader Bo Xilai's downfall
Beijing (AFP) April 11, 2012 - Key dates in the downfall of Bo Xilai, the former rising star in China's ruling Communist Party who has been suspended from the powerful Politburo on suspicion of "serious discipline violations".


- 2: Bo's right-hand man and Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is demoted

- 6: Wang visits US embassy in Chengdu reportedly seeking political asylum

- 7: Wang leaves US embassy of his own volition

- 8: Wang is placed on sick leave for stress and over-work. Sick leave is a term often used as a euphemism for a political purge in China

MARCH, 2012

- 2: State news agency Xinhua says Wang has been placed under investigation, giving no further details

- 9: Bo publicly defends his wife during a press conference at the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress, or parliament

- 15: Bo sacked from Chongqing party secretary position, with no reason given for his dismissal. Vice-premier Zhang Dejiang takes over

- 26: British government asks China to investigate death of its citizen Neil Heywood. Rumours that Bo's wife Gu Kailai may have been involved begin to circulate

APRIL, 2012

- 10: Bo is stripped of his position in the Communist Party's powerful 25-member Politburo and the wider Central Committee. Government says Gu is being investigated on suspicion of involvement in Heywood's murder

The purge of Bo Xilai and arrest of his wife for suspected murder have rocked China, and how leaders deal with the case may prove to be a crucial test for the country's political system, analysts say.

The state Xinhua news agency said Tuesday that Bo -- once tipped to access the top echelons of power -- had been suspended from the powerful Politburo and his wife Gu Kailai was being investigated over the death of Briton Neil Heywood.

News of Bo's demise came just one month after the former commerce minister was sacked as Communist Party chief of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, and has exposed major rifts within the party ahead of a key leadership change.

"It's a dramatic event. We normally don't get this kind of drama out of the Chinese leadership," said Patrick Chovanec, professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"It's not just about corruption, it's a major leadership battle over who is going to lead the country."

Bo, the son of revolutionary hero Bo Yibo, was part of the party's exclusive, 25-member Politburo and was a member of the so-called "princeling" faction that analysts say rivals President Hu Jintao's "Youth League" group.

Observers say Bo's fall from grace is a victory for Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao, who favour economic and social reforms in China, but it has also shattered the appearance of unity the party cultivates.

Daniel Lynch, an expert in Chinese political elites at the University of Southern California, said the ultimate outcome would depend on how the leadership dealt with the Bo and Gu cases.

"If it turns out... that Bo and Gu are genuinely guilty of heinous crimes, the Party can strengthen the political system by suggesting their dismissal from office and possible prosecution prove that no one in China, however powerful, is above the law," he said.

"If, on the other hand, the case seems weak, or many people aren't convinced and decide that Bo and Gu are being targeted unfairly in a factional political struggle, then the political system will be damaged."

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a politics professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, said the Bo affair raised questions about the future of China's political system and the way it is organised.

"Clearly, the level of impunity enjoyed by high officials, especially if they belong to princeling families, is not acceptable and sustainable anymore," he said.

He added that the murder element to the case may also have precipitated events.

"The British had officially asked that the case of the British businessman be reopened, this forced the leadership to look at the case more closely," he said.

Bo had once been tipped to become a member of the party's Standing Committee -- the apex of political power in China -- when seven of its nine members step down in the autumn in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

But his ambitions began to take a hit when his former police chief Wang Lijun fled to a US consulate in February, reportedly seeking asylum while handing over evidence of Bo's alleged wrong doings.

Several weeks later, Bo was sacked as Chongqing head -- a move that sparked wild online speculation about the current state of the party and rumours of military coups despite China's strict censorship controls.

"The reason the dismissal and probe were announced so quickly is probably because in today's China, they couldn't possibly keep such things a secret for the many months" until the leadership transition, said Lynch.

"Rumours would swirl, and the rumours themselves could fuel a sense of instability."

Chovanec said that the last major political scandal in China in 2006, during which Shanghai's party chief and Politburo member Chen Liangyu was detained for corruption, played out very differently.

"That was a big shake-up but it was a fairly contained process. There was an announcement -- this is what happened -- and that was it," he said.

"But you didn't have this swirl of rumours about coups, who might be next... And you didn't have public participation."

Regardless, the announcement almost certainly closes the door on the political career of Bo -- known for his suave and open demeanour which was seen as refreshing in a country where leaders are often rigid in public.

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Dead Englishman at centre of Chinese political scandal
London (AFP) April 11, 2012 - The mysterious circumstances of the death of British businessman Neil Heywood are at the centre of China's biggest political crisis in decades.

Heywood, who had reportedly forged close links to Bo Xilai, the charismatic former party leader of the southwest city of Chongqing, was found dead in a hotel room in the city in November last year.

Chinese authorities said the 41-year-old Englishman had high levels of alcohol in his blood and he was quickly cremated.

That puzzled acquaintances who knew him as a moderate drinker, according to The Times newspaper, which has spoken to acquaintances and friends in Britain.

But his family believed it was plausible that he had suffered a heart attack, just as his father fatally did in 2004, and until now have played down notions of foul play.

On Tuesday, the case took a dramatic twist when Bo's wife Gu Kailai was named as a suspect in Heywood's murder and Bo was removed from the Politburo.

Before his fall from grace, Bo had been tipped to become a member of the Communist party's Standing Committee -- the summit of political power in China -- when seven of its nine members stand down this year.

The developments will intensify the focus on Heywood's links to the couple in a country where access to power -- especially for a foreigner -- is rare.

There are suggestions that Heywood, a cheerful, rugby-playing man and fluent Mandarin speaker who was educated at the private Harrow School in London, helped Bo's son Bo Guagua find a place at the prestigious school.

Acquaintances of Heywood have been lobbying the Foreign Office to put pressure on the Chinese for a new inquiry, a fact recognised by Foreign Secretary William Hague when he said Tuesday he had pushed for a new probe.

Hague said he had taken a "personal interest" in the case and welcomed the Chinese authorities' decision to re-open the investigation.

The exact nature of Heywood's work in China remains a mystery, although reports say he had been drawn into the murky world of industrial intelligence-gathering before he died.

One member of the British business community in China said Heywood was highly secretive.

"He's someone I hadn't seen on the circuit, which struck me as odd," the unnamed businessman told The Times. "It occurred to me that he might be doing other stuff."

Heywood was educated at Harrow and in 1989 he went to Warwick University in central England to read International Relations. A fascination for Chinese culture led him to move to Beijing to study the language.

In 1994, while he was teaching English in the city of Dalian in northeast China, he met his Chinese wife Wang Lulu, who is believed to have introduced him to Gu when her husband Bo was mayor of the city.


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