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On the Record

Bo Xilai Trial Analysis: How and Why Chinese Politician Veered Off Script

Cheng Li

Editor’s Note: In an interview with CNN‘s Hilary Whiteman, Cheng Li provides his analysis of the twists in the trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, which takes place this week in Jinan, China. Read an excerpt below.

CNN: Before Bo Xilai’s trial, many commentators predicted it would follow a tight script but that doesn’t appear to be the case. What has been the most surprising twist?

Li: There were two surprises. One is that Bo has rejected all allegations so far, and said he “unwillingly” accepted the charge when he was being questioned by the central disciplinary commission investigation team. The second surprise is that the prosecution has performed very poorly in trying to make a strong case against him; it seems to be falling apart.

All of a sudden, in my view, Bo has decided not to cooperate, but not completely. Because he did not go too far to condemn other leaders or reveal some other problems; this is probably what worried some of the leadership the most.

CNN: Did Bo and his legal team wrong-foot the leadership?

Li: Bo as a person, as a leader, is unpredictable. If you reviewed his career he always surprised people. He has always played the wildcard. It will be the authorities’ problem if they didn’t prepare for that. When you have a semi-open trial you need to prepare.

There’s a lot of praise in Chinese social media for the judge for his professional manner, but the prosecutors are terrible. Bo has rejected virtually everything in a very effective way. But that means even the leadership can’t rely too much on the promises or deals made by Bo.

Read the full interview »

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