Editor’s Note: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Orlik, Cheng Li provides his analysis on the trial of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, which takes place this week in Jinan, China. Read an excerpt below.
Tom Orlik: What do you make of these charges?
Cheng Li: It is interesting to compare these charges at the court with the charges made last September when Bo was expelled from the party: abuse of power, corruption, bribery, obstruction of justice, womanizing, violation of party rules, and during the investigation of the Neil Heywood murder case, they also found evidence of some other criminal conduct.
Now they only focus on three charges, all related to corruption. That focus makes sense from the perspective of China’s leaders for two reasons. First, making serious charges stick might require revealing evidence that triggers fresh public criticism of the Chinese political system. Second, more serious charges would require a stiffer sentence, making it harder to cut a deal with Bo.
Tom Orlik: China’s leaders are walking a fine line – do you think it will work?
Cheng Li: The public will not forget why Bo was caught in the first place: not because of corruption, but because of his police chief’s defection and his wife’s involvement in murder.
It is also ironic that in the public mind, Bo was famous for his strong campaign against corruption and many people in China believe that he was relatively clean.
I interviewed people who personally knew Bo at the time of his arrest. As a very ambitious politician, Bo thought that the entire country would be his in the future, so he was not so interested in petty corruption.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.