Bo Xilai: A Poor Test of Rule of Law in China
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Bo Xilai: A Poor Test of Rule of Law in China


Nearly a year and a half after he was detained, the trial of former Politburo member Bo Xilai finally kicked off in China last week.

In the run-up to the trial many observers hailed it as a test of Xi Jinping’s commitment to the rule of law. This is ludicrous.

To begin with, if Bo’s case is a proper test of the Chinese leadership’s commitment to the rule of law, then certainly they have failed. Bo was detained amid great secrecy back in March 2012 and hadn’t been seen or heard from since until his trial began. He was presumably being held in a secret location by the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a body that operates under extreme secrecy and holds itself as above the law. Indeed, the outcome of the commission’s investigations—including the torture that is believed to be used liberally during them—ultimately dictates the outcome of the legal proceedings that follows them.

Besides a short statement announcing that Bo had been detained, followed by one saying he’d be expelled from the Party, Chinese authorities have said nothing about Bo until they announced his trial dates last week. It was at this time that the world (and possibly Bo himself) first learned what the former Chongqing party secretary was being charged with. People may differ in their definitions of the rule of law, but Bo’s detention has failed to meet even the most non-sensible interpretations of the term.

More to the point, Bo’s case is a particularly poor example for judging China’s commitment to the rule of law. Michael Pettis has decried economists for often using Apple products as a “typical” example of a Chinese export in their studies of China’s trade behavior. Contrary to theses economists’ claims, Pettis rightly notes, Apple products “are most certainly not the best example of Chinese exports. The only reason they show up as ‘typical’ examples in every article is precisely because they are so atypical and represent such an extreme case of assembly value added…. Most international trade does not consist of Apple products.”

In the same vein, most Chinese criminal prosecution cases do not consist of high-profile former Politburo members like Bo Xilai. Indeed, a number of crucial factors—such as the potential destabilizing divisions the case presents to wide sways of the Party and nation— make Bo’s case exceptional even among political corruption cases. A country’s commitment to the rule of law can’t be judged primarily by highly-visible, politically-charged cases like Bo’s, but rather by the much more numerous and mundane cases considered in the aggregate. China will be governed by the rule of law when the nation’s laws are effectively and consistently applied by independent judges to all Chinese citizens regardless of their wealth and political connections, or lack thereof.

Some may counter that Bo’s case is important in demonstrating if Xi and the leadership’s commitment to tackling corruption among the “tigers” within the Party’s ranks. But this too fails to pass muster. By all accounts, Bo was believed to be seeking an appointment to the Politburo Standing Committee with the hope of challenging and possibly usurping Xi’s first among equal status on that body.

Seen from this light, Xi had more of an incentive than most for wanting to see Bo purged from the Party. And the willingness to arbitrarily apply the law to political opponents does not demonstrate an individual’s commitment to the rule of law, but rather his or her commitment to succeed in a party that lacks it.

August 27, 2013 at 12:53

I mean "mean" not "mena" LOLZ

August 27, 2013 at 12:53

I mena "mean" not "man" LOL

August 27, 2013 at 12:51

In the US, people also seem to be more interested in Miley's "twerk" (it's Mlley Cyrus doing her thing at the VMA yesterday!) than in Guagua's and Mingze's acceptance to Harvard or Columbia Law School (Mingze is Jinping Xi's daughter). Not every American kid can afford to go to these elite Universities, not to mention where other Chinese leaders like Hu and Wen stash away their billions of dollars. It seems like the world is flooded with all kinds of "media" but it's not easy to find out the true story behind many things. The world seems to be a stage full of smoke and mirrors!

August 27, 2013 at 12:41

A straight line cannot be concave or convex. Besides, convex curves can intersect at two points or none )(  Is that what you man by a "fleeing" situation between China an Japan. Who's fleeing from whom?

August 27, 2013 at 06:40

Two non-parallel straight lines (or one concave and one convex) will intersect only once. This is the crux.

Unless China implodes, the stage of approximate equality between China and Japan will be a fleeing situation. China will eventually, within a few decades, quite dominate Japan. China will likely not implode, so a situation where China will be much superior to Japan will evolve into existence.

Likely China is confident and wise enough to wait for such eventuality before it acts more assertively. The situation is stable and is not alarming.

The USA can draw a line on the sand about China starting a war, but such is immaterial. There will be ways when China can exert much and effective pressure on Japan without the actuality of war, by demonstration of superiority.

Trade unlikely will be the key. Anti-Japanese acrimony per se will be effective in  applying pressure on Japan.

A clear winner has already emerged IMO, China!

August 26, 2013 at 23:11

Toucher rien : I wonder why French press is exceptionally silent about this trial and what the role the French authorities or this Devillers played in this villa story, while we know not everybody can buy a house so easily in France !

August 26, 2013 at 09:22

Is this the harmonious Chinese Dream on Cloud Nine (counting little white sheep to fall asleep) or the evil Document Number Nine (for the handsome princeling Bobo black sheep to fall deep)?
Guagua already told us what he thinks (in a NYTimes interview) but what about Mingze Xi and Wangzhi Li (Xilai's son from his first marriage), a graduate of Columbia University, who works at Citibank (not JP Morgan?) Incidentally, Guagua is going to Columbia Law School as we all know. By the way, where does Guagua keep his money? Neil Heywood would have known. I'm waiting for the movie version of the BoGu saga.

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