For an event whose outcome is all but assured, the Bo Xilai trial -- scheduled to begin in Jinan on Thursday -- arrives with an unusual amount of fanfare. Bo is accused of bribery and abuse of power, and without question will be found guilty and sentenced to prison, probably for a very long time. The conviction will conclude one of China's most dazzling political careers -- as well as one of its most spectacular downfalls. As the Party Secretary of Chongqing, the dashing Bo engineered a populist revival of Mao-era culture as well as cracked down on organized crime, becoming a star destined for higher office. But a scandal involving the poisoning death of a British businessman, a crime for which Bo's wife was found guilty, led to Bo's expulsion from the Communist Party and ultimate indictment.
In the predictable world of Chinese criminal justice, Bo's conviction is assured. But that doesn't mean that his trial will be a dull, perfunctory exercise. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for the top levels of the Chinese government to be nervous -- and that alone makes the proceedings worth paying attention to.
Typically, Chinese officials indicted for corruption attract little public sympathy. But Bo isn't just any politician. Months after his expulsion from the Communist Party and banishment from public life, Bo still commands significant grassroots support throughout the country. In an effort to clamp down on pro-Bo sentiment, the Chinese government has threatened and intimidated supportive bloggers into silence. Clearly, Beijing wants the trial to come and go without anyone making a fuss. But the government has to be careful; an unjustly harsh verdict may inflame Bo's supporters, causing a public relations headache that the Communist Party wants desperately to avoid.
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