China's president is a master of stage managing political developments. (Photo/CNS)
The murder trial of Gu Kailai on Thursday and the trial the following day of four police officers who attempted to cover up her killing of British businessman Neil Heywood reflect the calm and by-the-book demeanor of Communist Party leader and Chinese president Hu Jintao, reports Duowei News, an outlet run by overseas Chinese.
Gu, the wife of ousted Chongqing party chief and former political star Bo Xilai, was tried at the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court in eastern Anhui province on Aug. 9 for fatally poisoning Heywood in November last year with the assistance of Zhang Xiaojun, a family aide. The case, arguably the most high-profile and sensitive in the country for three decades, lasted only one day and the verdict and sentence are expected to be announced before the end of the month. Four Chongqing police officials who concealed and destroyed evidence of Gu's involvement in the murder, allegedly at her behest, were tried a day later and are also waiting to hear their fate.
While the trials were said to be "open" to the public, the proceedings appeared to be strictly controlled by the party and were conducted in an unruffled and disciplined manner that stressed the purported importance of equality before the law.
Political observers told Duowei that the careful and thorough handling of the case and the surrounding political scandal is very much a reflection of Hu's stern and decisive personality. The president managed to quickly separate Bo from the party leadership as soon as the scandal broke earlier this year and has been doing what needs to be done in accordance with party rules and regulations, Duowei said. This is well in line with the approach of a politician who is known for preparing all his public statements in advance and avoids making impromptu speeches, it added.
Duowei pointed to how quick the party was to classify former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun's mad dash to the US consulate in Chengdu in February — which sparked the entire scandal — as an "isolated incident," as well as Premier Wen Jiabao's follow-up comments at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress the following month about the dangers of attempting to revive Mao Zedong's political ideology, a thinly-veiled attack on Bo's controversial "strike the black, sing the red" campaign in Chongqing. The party has also reiterated on numerous occasions that Bo's dismissal was not politically motivated and that Gu's murder case is criminal and not political in nature, a claim not viewed seriously by independent observers.
In the face of escalating rumors on the internet, Hu also ordered repeated editorials and articles in state-run media such as the People's Daily and the PLA Daily, as well as state broadcaster CCTV, urging people to ignore the rumors and have faith in the party, Duowei said. While the party's rhetoric has not necessarily convinced everyone, Hu has not wavered from the approach he adopted from the beginning.
To keep the party united, Hu ordered an emergency internal meeting prior to his decision to dismiss Bo and also summoned party leaders to Beijing before pressing charges against Gu and Zhang over Heywood's murder. The decisions were delivered to ward off preemptive statements by provincial and municipal governments before they were announced through official media, a rarity in the 30-plus years of party operations since the Cultural Revolution, Duowei added.
This is not the first time Hu has taken swift action to protect the reputation of the party following a political scandal. In September 2006, Hu gained public support when he chose to immediately dismiss former Shanghai party secretary and Politburo member Chen Liangyu for misappropriating social security funds, Duowei reported.
Gu Kailai 谷開來
Hu Jintao 胡錦濤
Bo Xilai 薄熙來
Zhang Xiaojun 張曉軍
Wang Lijun 王立軍
Wen Jiabao 溫家寶
Mao Zedong 毛澤東
Chen Liangyu 陳良宇