Bo Xilai’s trial, the prosecution of the highest-profile Chinese statesman in decades, started in China this morning. Onlookers were roundly surprised by Bo’s feisty defense and denials of wrongdoing: he claimed to have never received bribes from Xu Ming, a businessman who testified to providing Bo and his family with $3.3 million in exchange for help with business deals and denied other allegations of corruption.The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Chinese authorities are “worried” that Bo will deny the “official” narrative and make trouble:
The overriding concern for Chinese leaders, they [“party insiders”] say, is how Mr. Bo behaves in court and whether the official account of the proceedings is challenged by his relatives, six of whom are expected to be in the courtroom, or by any other sympathetic court observer.People familiar with the case said Chinese authorities were hoping to be able to broadcast footage after the trial showing Mr. Bo admitting his guilt and apologizing for his crimes—as his wife did at her trial last year.
It’s true that Bo still has his supporters—the Journal reporters found several of them in Chongqing where Bo was once mayor, and there were protestors making a commotion outside the courtroom chanting support for the accused. And it’s also true that Bo has an impressive ability to manipulate the media and public opinion. But perhaps more importantly than either of those two things is that Bo Xilai still has his supporters among the upper echelons of the Party leadership.This helps explain President Xi Jinping’s recent maneuverings that we’ve been writing about over the past few days. As this trial approached, Xi has been hard at work bringing over Bo’s supporters to his side and employing many of the strategies used by Bo himself to shore up public support and present himself as a strong, nationalist leader. Bo is “a hero to lots of people,” a professor at Peking university told Reuters. Xi will make sure that he and the Party take over that mantle, and Bo goes quietly away.[Bo Xilai at the opening session of the National People’s Congress in March 2012, courtesy Getty Images.]