A joke doing the rounds on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, goes like this:
Three men are sitting in prison and the conversation turns to why they’re there.
“I opposed Wang Lijun,” says the first.
“I supported Wang Lijun,” says the second.
“I am Wang Lijun,” says the third.
The format and subversive humour are nothing new. Jokes in this form have been doing the rounds since Stalin’s time (and probably much earlier). But Wang Lijun’s appearance speaks to the rapid rise and fall of China’s most flamboyant cop.
As readers of WiC will know, as little as a year ago Wang Lijun’s star looked to be in the ascendant. But last November, unbeknownst to all but a small circle, Wang fell out with his patron Bo Xilai after confronting him with evidence that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had killed the British businessman Neil Heywood.
His driver and aides were arrested and on February 6 Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, apparently afraid that Bo (then Chongqing’s Party boss) was about to make a move on him too.
On Monday of this week, Wang went on trial. He was found guilty of defection, bribery, abuse of power and “bending the law for selfish ends”. His sentence is 15 years in prison, Xinhua reported.
Whether Wang serves that time remains to be seen. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, Wang’s lawyer seemed to suggest that his client may get out early on medical grounds. Others believe that Wang can expect sympathetic treatment because of his role in bringing down Bo.
If he is granted early release, it would not be an unpopular decision. On Monday many of those posting online about the verdict were sympathetic to the former police chief.
“Wang’s problem was that he was a good policeman who didn’t know how to play politics,” wrote one user from Chongqing.
“I will be angry if Bo gets off with a lighter punishment than him,” warned another.
Of course, with both the trials of Wang and Gu Kailai now over (the court sat for less than a week for the two cases combined), the question is now what will happen to Bo.
The current thinking is that Wang’s relatively lenient sentence – the death penalty was a possibility – could indicate that Bo will receive a heavier punishment.
Xinhua’s report on Wang’s trial emphasised the “major meritorious service” he had performed by producing “important clues that exposed serious offences committed by others”. And that would be who?
The report also implicated Bo – although not by name – in the cover up of Heywood’s murder in November.
“On January 28 Wang Lijun reported to the then leading official of the Communist Party of China in Chongqing that Gu Kailai was highly suspected in the November 15 case. On the morning of January 29, Wang Lijun was angrily rebuked and slapped in the face by the official,” it said.
Bo’s fate is far from clear. He is currently under investigation by the Party’s internal watchdog for “serious disciplinary violations”, a catch-all phrase for any Party member deemed to be in the wrong. But newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have suggested that a failure by Party seniors to reach agreement on how Bo’s case should proceed is why the dates of the all-important 18th Party Congress have not yet been announced.
“The Congress has been held as early as September and as late as November in the last 15 years, but the timing has always been announced in late August or early September,” the Journal wrote this week.
It also said that Xi Jinping’s recent absence could be another reason for the delay in finalising the date.
But given that floral tributes for display at the Congress are already being assembled in Beijing, it looks unlikely that Bo’s fate will be settled before the big political meeting. The most likely scenario is that the Party will announce the result of its internal investigation at the plenum, with the results of any further investigation delayed until China’s new leaders have settled into their new roles.
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