Bo trial shows obedience is Beijing's goal: analysts
Former Chinese political star Bo Xilai in handcuffs at court in Jinan on September 22, 2013.
President Xi Jinping, who took office earlier this year, has vowed to tackle both low-level "flies" and high-ranking "tigers" in an anti-graft drive that has led to expectations that past and present political big-hitters could be targeted.
State media on Monday universally applauded the outcome of Bo's trial, which ended Sunday with the former Chongqing party chief being jailed for life for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
"The sentence Bo received shows that no corrupt element is immune from the fight," the China Daily said in one of many tough-talking editorials.
But despite his high-profile downfall, Beijing's rhetoric is unlikely to be matched with action against endemic graft as long as the newly installed leadership can count on loyalty and obedience, experts say.
Bo's spectacular fall from grace came after the 64-year-old became a standard bearer for those who favoured his populist left-leaning policies.
Observers say this became more of a threat to the legitimacy of the reform-minded political elite than the sensational scandal that engulfed him, including the murder of a British businessman for which Bo's wife was convicted.
The former elite politburo member was convicted of taking 20.4 million yuan ($3.3 million) worth of bribes.
It is an amount that pales into insignificance compared with the huge fortunes alleged to have been amassed by the families of Xi and former premier Wen Jiabao in investigations by US media, said David Zweig from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
But he said that the objective of Bo's trial was not to uncover corruption, but to ensure he was silenced, and that the ending of his political career has the broader aim of weakening the party's left-wing elements.
"It is not just the standard purge," he said. "He will spend a lot of time in jail. It is a message to the left they do not have someone they can rally around here. He is done for."
The trial and sentence have been met with scepticism on China's hugely popular microblogging sites, where users expressed the common view that top officials are routinely corrupt, and that the Bo case was driven by a new set of leaders installed last November.
"I think this is, in reality, a political battle," said one poster on Sina Weibo. "Since the 18th party congress, you must eliminate all the threats against the new leadership to ensure a smooth transfer of power."
Bo staged a feisty defence in court that surprised many observers, and his show of defiance was seen as a factor behind his heavy sentence.
He again erupted in anger when the life sentence was handed down, shouting out "Unfair!" and "Unjust!" according to the South China Morning Post. It did not say how it learned of the comments which were not in official accounts of the closed-door hearing.
Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Beijing could take the drastic step of targeting an even higher-ranking figure and Bo ally, the recently retired Zhou Yongkang.
The former security tsar served until last November on the then nine-member super elite politburo standing committee, but Willy Lam, China politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said a move to investigate him is highly unlikely.
"With Bo, Xi Jinping has made his point," said Lam. "Obedience to the party is more important to the party leadership than corruption."
"All this going after big tigers is divisive and causes disunity among the factions, and this is why Xi will not go after Zhou Yongkang."
Bo's leftist revival during his tenure as boss of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing saw thousands of officials sent to the countryside to get closer to ordinary people, and the staging of mass concerts with "red songs" praising former leader Mao Zedong.
After his downfall, factions in the upper echelons of the Communist Party were reportedly split on how to handle him, and a year and a half passed following his detention before he went on trial.
"Many Chinese people liked Bo for his populist approach to politics and policy," said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.
"His tendency to look for popular support hurt him with his colleagues, but I think it gave some citizens the taste for more democratic politics."
However, the lurid allegations that captivated the nation only implicated his inner circle and close family, underscoring Beijing's tight control of the legal process.
"We have seen some kind of agreement -- to not touch on intra-party struggles, to not implicate senior leaders -- that certainly shows that the party is still in charge of the judiciary," said Joseph Cheng from the City University of Hong Kong.
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