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Bo Xilai's High-Profile Trial Gets Underway In China


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. China is in the midst of its highest-profile political trial in decades. It's a case that may offer a view into the secretive ways business and politics are conducted among the top ranks of Chinese power. The defendant is Bo Xilai, who once seemed destined for the top ranks of the ruling Communist Party, but is now facing corruption charges. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the eastern city of Jinan, where the trial is underway. Good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with a little history, here. We, of course, have heard about him over the last couple of years. Remind us, though, of the story.

KUHN: OK. Well, Bo Xilai is the son of a revolutionary leader. He's seen as a charismatic and flamboyant politician in a system that does not reward political flair. And he rose through the system all the way to the Communist Party's Political Bureau, and he seemed set to enter the top when things started to go wrong. His wife was jailed for her role in the murder of a British businessman. His lieutenant bolted for the U.S. consulate and tried to apply for asylum, and he was jailed, too. Now Bo Xilai himself is accused of taking bribes, of embezzling government money and obstructing justice.

MONTAGNE: Now, skeptics will say that this is a show trial, that the verdict has been decided in advance by China's leaders. What are you seeing there?

KUHN: Well, yes, it's true. The verdict may be pre-ordained, and everything we're seeing here may be stage-managed and rehearsed in advance. But an awful lot of information is coming out. The proceedings are being live-tweeted, testimony in court is coming out, and, you know, the government is obviously trying very hard to make it look like it's not a complete kangaroo court scene.

MONTAGNE: And when you talk about interesting details coming out, give us a couple of examples.

KUHN: All right. Well, Renee, we may never know the real reason behind this guy's fall, but there's some pretty lurid material going on, here. And, you know, one is the possibility that Bo was involved in his wife's role in the murder of the British businessman. Now, in court, they're saying that he obstructed the official investigation into his wife's role in the murder. How did he obstruct it? They're not saying. So, it will be interesting to see how they link him to this murder case.

MONTAGNE: And, in the middle of all of this, Bo does seem to be speaking in his own defense, from what little has already come out this morning. What kinds of things has he been saying?

KUHN: Well, he came out and rejected those allegations of corruption against him. He said he hoped he would get a fair and an open trial. And he also, interestingly, he indicated that he may have made some confessions, some admissions that were under duress. We don't know if he was tortured, if, you know, what happened to him. But, apparently, something - he said something that he didn't want to.

MONTAGNE: Now, as you said earlier, Bo was at one point extremely popular, and he was a populist. So you've spent time outside the courthouse speaking to local residents there in Jinan. What did they have to say?

KUHN: It was a pretty amazing scene. I mean, there was a very heavy security presence. I saw some people bundled into vans and driven away by the police. But at the same time, there was a very lively debate going on about this politician's flaws, his merits, what he did to improve people's livelihoods, what he did to improve the cities where he was mayor, and about the rule of law in China, about the country's future. You know, there were some very hardcore Maoists there, people who thought that he was being framed. And there were others who, you know, said that this corruption trial was the way to go, and that there were serious problems. So it was a huge range of public opinion, and people were talking very passionately.

MONTAGNE: Anthony, thank you.

KUHN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn, in Jinan, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.