CCP's clear signal: Graft offenders won't go free

CHINA - THE severity of Bo Xilai's punishment could give clues to how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might act in key areas such as pushing economic reforms or fighting graft, say analysts.

Several interviewed felt the life imprisonment meted out to the former Politburo member could be considered as a harsh punishment, and is aimed at showing the CCP's resolve in fighting graft.

Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam believes Bo's punishment shows that CCP supremo Xi Jinping "has the power and determination to go the distance in fighting graft".

Thus, though Bo is deemed more as the loser of a political struggle and less the subject of corruption probes, his fate could hint that the CCP's ongoing anti- graft campaign might intensify or last longer than expected, said Wuhan University's law scholar Qin Qianhong.

"The message is that the party will show no mercy to corrupt officials, no matter how high their posts are," he added.

Bo, 64, received the life sentence for taking bribes, as well as 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power.

Professor Jerome Cohen of the New York University School of Law told The Straits Times that anything beyond a 20-year jail term is a heavy sentence.

"A heavy sentence would be based on the hope of deterring further corruption, although, if too heavy, it would inspire support for claims of injustice on the ground that the punishment is excessive in the light of the offences charged," he added.

Also, with Bo's fate reportedly a bargaining chip between various factions angling for a bigger say over the country's growth path, analysts say his punishment could bolster President Xi's ability to push through policy reforms at the party's Third Plenum in November.

Over the decades, the Third Plenum, or the third plenary session of the current Central Committee, has become a platform for a new Chinese leadership to outline its priorities and policy directions.

But the extent of reform is often the target of negotiations between various power groups, such as the leftists who had backed Bo and his vision of a bigger state role and their opponents advocating more open market reforms.

Professor Lam believes the "satisfactory" way the CCP handles Bo "might promote cooperation and unity among the factions" ahead of the Third Plenum.

"In general, Xi's clout will be boosted because satisfactorily closing the chapter on Bo would demonstrate that Xi has the political skills to handle Bo's 'rebellion' and to shift the focus to economic reforms at the plenum," he said.

Analyst Russell Leigh Moses, dean of the Centre for Chinese Studies in Beijing, said the sentence shows that the Xi leadership "wants to move on to far more important matters, such as rejuvenating the party and making the economy more efficient".

Analyst Li Cheng of the Brookings Institution in Washington also believes that Mr Xi has resolved Bo's fate deftly with a life sentence that does not agitate the fallen star's supporters, as it can be blamed on his defiant stance during the trial. Nor does it disappoint the public's desire for a tough punishment, he added.

"Xi has gained more 'political capital' to carry out economic policies at the plenum," said Dr Li.

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