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Why Bo Xilai Is Having an ‘Open’ Trial

Why Bo Xilai Is Having an ‘Open’ Trial

The second day of Bo Xilai’s trial ended with another mesmerizing performance by the fallen Chinese politician. Although foreign reporters have not been allowed inside the courtroom in the provincial capital of Jinan where the trial is being held, the court’s microblog has continued to release what appears to be much of what was said during the proceedings. Responding to testimony from his wife Gu Kailai, who is currently in prison for murder, he said, "Gu has changed, she’s crazy, she always tells lies," adding "Under the circumstances, her mental state wasn’t normal. Her handlers put huge pressure on her." He also denied knowing about payments his wife claimed to have received from Xu Ming, a business tycoon, a strategy "which stands legally," Jiang Tianyong, a liberal lawyer and rights defender, told the New York Times.

Many people are speculating that Beijing is broadcasting the trial to give legitimacy to the eventual guilty verdict. But the unprecedented openness for such a high-profile case also represents a way for officials to involve Chinese citizens in the legal proceedings, and give them a stake in the outcome.

On its Sina Weibo account, the state-run newspaper Beijing Youth Daily explained it thusly (italics mine):

As Jinan Central Court continues to hear the case against Bo Xilai for bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, the prosecution and the defense have been locked in an intense confrontation. Bo has conducted a spirited defense, but the key fact is that he’s released some opinions which are mutually contradictory, leaving a cover up difficult and awkward. The courts and the official media have thoroughly released the information, allowing every netizen, every reader, to become a ‘judge.’ An open China, a confident China, becomes mature and sharp by practice. Each step is steady, each step is good. Good night.

It’s a strategy that works well under the assumption that the Chinese following the trial will be convinced that Bo is guilty. Calling on netizens to judge his guilt becomes more fraught in the very unlikely event he convinces them of his innocence.