JINAN, China — In the weeks before Bo Xilai, the fallen Communist Party star, went on trial here on corruption-related charges, senior officials from the powerful party investigation agency told him about two officials who had been tried earlier on somewhat similar charges, Bo said in court.
One, a former vice governor of Anhui province, was sentenced to death and executed in 2004 for taking bribes and stealing $1.6 million. The other, a former railway minister, received a suspended death sentence — essentially life in prison — in July, mainly for taking $10.6 million in bribes, a much larger amount.
The senior officials’ point, Bo told the court here in a 10-minute speech Friday, according to two people briefed on the proceedings, was that the party could mete out any punishment it chose, and that Bo’s fate rested on whether he chose to cooperate during his own trial on charges of bribe taking, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Bo’s speech and some other instances in which he railed against threats and hardships during his 17 months in captivity have not appeared in the torrent of court transcripts released publicly since the trial began Thursday. Instead, those transcripts show Bo cross-examining witnesses, ridiculing the testimony of his wife and former colleagues, and seemingly free to play his part as defendant however he chooses.
But, analysts say, despite the fact that the party, in an unexpected show of relative transparency, has allowed millions of Chinese citizens to witness much of Bo’s performance through a running court microblog, which had 540,000 followers by Sunday, the trial remains political stagecraft, fashioned around Bo’s combative character.
The spectacle, they say, is an effort by the party to convince his elite party allies and ordinary supporters that Bo, a populist politician and the son of a revolutionary leader, had his say in court, and that the long prison sentence he is expected to get is based on evidence of crimes committed, not political payback. State news media highlight daily the evidence presented against Bo.
“The authorities hope to separate the Bo Xilai case from politics,” said Chen Jieren, a legal commentator. “They want people to think this was only an anti-corruption struggle, not a political and ideological struggle.”