At a conference at Duke University this weekend, I met Han Dongfang, a Hong Kong-based dissident imprisoned after the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Han, who runs the labor rights organization China Labour Bulletin, hasn’t been back in mainland China since 1993. The conversation soon turned to the fate of Bo Xilai, the disgraced Chongqing Communist Party boss, and Han floated an interesting idea about how Chinese authorities should handle the former official.
Beijing, Han said, should “just put him on a plane and send him away,” thereby getting rid of the problem and punishing Bo by removing him from China. (The last credible report I read on the case came in late February from Reuters, which stated that Bo has not been cooperating with a government investigation and that he has staged hunger strikes. I’ve heard guesses that his trial will be in May, but the timing is still unknown.)
I think it’s extremely unlikely that Beijing would exile Bo; his value as an intelligence source is huge, for one thing. If he’s set free of whatever form of imprisonment he’s under in the next five to 10 years, I’d guess his life would turn out to be similar to that of Zhao Ziyang, the former premier who lived under house arrest from 1989 until his death in 2004.
Still, it’s a poignant view from Han, who’s been forced to remain on China’s periphery for the last two decades. “As soon as dissidents leave China, they lose their influence,” Han said. “It’s like cutting off your legs and putting you in a wheelchair.”