18th Party Congress Watch (11)
Gao Wenqian, HRIC Senior Policy Advisor
In this new segment of the HRIC’s “18th Party Congress Watch” commentary series, Gao Wenqian provides his view on the meaning of Wang Lijun’s 15-year sentence and its implication for how the Party will deal with Bo Xilai’s case.
Question: Most media reports say that the 15-year sentence for Wang Lijun is lenient. How do you see it?
Gao Wenqian: I think the key is how we view the sentence—using what standards and viewing from what angle. Viewed from the sentencing provisions in China's Criminal Law, Wang's sentence is clearly lenient. Because according to China's Criminal Law, the most egregious cases of corruption and bribery, involving 100,000 yuan or more, can carry sentences ranging from ten years to life in prison. So, giving Wang only nine years for the corruption count is lenient.
But when considering Wang's actual crimes, the 15-year sentence is obviously heavy. This is because among the four crimes of which Wang was convicted, the most serious is taking bribes. You might ask why he was convicted of taking bribes. This is because of the two houses in Beijing that he received (in kickbacks). This is a very strange matter. Within Chinese official circles, where no official is uncorrupt, if an official accepts 3,050,000 yuan in bribes, he can even be seen as an honest official. So why did they insist on using bribery charges against him? Because in the most serious case, bribery can carry a life sentence.
Now, why did they need to sentence him at all? There are several main reasons. First, he sullied the face of the Communist Party. Wang said famously: "I am just a piece of chewing gum in an official’s mouth; but when it is spat out after the flavor is gone, you never know whose bottom of the shoe it will stick onto.” But right now, it is not stuck on anyone’s shoe—it is stuck on the face of the Communist Party, and it is not coming off. Another reason is that he knows too many dirty secrets, and broke the unspoken rules of Chinese officialdom. Therefore, he must be given a heavy sentence as a warning to others.
Question: From Wang's sentence, what implications do you see for the handling of Bo Xilai's case?
Gao Wenqian: I think the Bo Xilai case can be handled in two ways, one is lenient, the other, harsh. Where are the boundaries? Lenient treatment will focus on Party discipline; harsh treatment will mean criminal prosecution. In reality, from the news reports on Wang's trial, we can see that the nature of Bo's case has already changed. When it was first announced that Bo was dismissed from all his positions within and outside the Party, they only said that he seriously violated Party discipline—that this was just a problem inside the party. But now—he has become a suspect in a serious crime, so the nature of the case has changed.
When covering the trials of Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun, a lot of media tended to view them as being separate from Bo’s case. In fact, I don’t see it this way. They are actually a foreshadowing. Because Gu Kailai is Bo’s wife, and she was convicted of intentional homicide, while Wang Lijun was Bo’s loyal confidant, and he was convicted of crimes including “bending the law” and “taking bribes.” Just think, two of the people closest to Bo are guilty of such serious crimes, can Bo escape criminal charges? These convictions have implicated him. Of course, how Bo’s case will turn out still depends on other variables, one being the transfer of power at the 18th Party Congress.
Question: Why are there still other variables?
Gao Wenqian: Because I think the Bo Xilai case is no longer just a case concerning an individual. It has become—in advance of the 18th Party Congress, in the intra-Party power struggle between the Jiang (Zemin) faction and the Hu (Jintao) faction to gain the upper hand in the transfer of power during the Party Congress—it has become a bargaining chip, or you can say, a chess piece. The so-called discussion about whether Bo’s case will be dealt with leniently or harshly is really not about Bo, but is in fact about the transfer of power at the 18th Party Congress. This is my basic view.