The ever-deepening scandal surrounding former Communist Party heavyweight Bo Xilai has pushed China's leadership into its deepest crisis in more than two decades. Now, murder charges against his wife have opened a new chapter to the drama.
Known as 'Jackie Kennedy of China', Gu Kailai was detained on suspicion of murder, state media reported Tuesday.
Bo, a former high-flying member of the powerful politburo who had been expected to rise to the party's upper echelons of the standing committee this year, was suspended from all party posts and accused of "serious discipline violations," official news agency Xinhua wrote.
The new charges add to a roller coaster ride that has kept Chinese media riveted for weeks, ever since Bo - a 'princeling' son of Bo Yibo, one of the party's 'Eight Elders' from the late 1970s - had to step down from his post as party leader of the south-western city of Chongqing in March.
The move came after Bo's deputy, police chief Wang Lijun, entered the US consulate in neighboring Chengdu in February and spent one day there. No details have been released of any conversations between Wang and US officials during that time.
But the so-called Super-Cop is believed to have given US officials incriminating information about Bo Xilai's activites, as well as the murder suspicion against his wife and possibly details about the power struggle in the leadership.
Wang unsuccessfully asked for asylum, but finally gave himself up to the central leadership. He was later branded as a traitor, but the political and diplomatic crisis nevertheless led to Bo's removal as party chief of Chongqing.
"Now we are waiting for Season Two," said Chinese blogger Michael Anti, comparing the political drama to plots only seen on television. "I don't think people in Hollywood can come up with such a dramatic series."
Bo's wife Gu, 52, a former attorney, was allegedly involved in the murder of British business consultant Neil Heywood, it emerged Tuesday. His November death in a Chongqing hotel room was initially attributed to excessive alcohol consumption. He was quickly cremated, without an autopsy.
The 41-year-old businessman had been a family friend since the 1990s and used his contacts to get the couple's son, Bo Guagua, into an elite British school. Rumours - none confirmed - have percolated that Heywood had funneled the family's fortune abroad or might even have had an affair with Gu.
Some of the information might have been leaked deliberately. Even Xinhua has noted that Gu and her son had been on "good terms" with Heywood, adding, "However, they had conflicts over economic interests, which had been intensified."
Now, an investigation has shown that Heywood was murdered, leading to the arrest of Gu and a family aide as suspects.
The crime case, on top of Bo's political downfall, has left the Chinese leadership in political straits. It could be the worst such crisis since the power struggle ahead of the bloody crushing of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, say some China observers.
At the very least, the attention has thrown into disarray the careful planning of the Communist Party's generational switch of top leadership positions, which happens every 10 years and is set for later this year.
It is also a serious blow for the party's new left wing, which Bo had championed with his 'red' campaigns and leftist politics in Chongqing, a city of 30 million. The movement seeks to return the party to its roots and is seen as a reaction to the more consumer-centric forces that hold sway in China today.
"The attempt to go left has failed completely," said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Bejing's People's University (Renmin Daxue). "And it failed dramatically. So I suppose there won't be anyone like Bo Xilai among the new leaders."
That meant any backroom fights about party succession would now have been tilted away from the left.
"The trend of reform will be enhanced," said Zhang.
The party seems to be taking Bo's leftist supporters seriously, with calls in the party's mouthpiece People's Daily and other official media for unity and "firm support for the correct decision of the CPC (Communist Party) Central Committee" to remove Bo.
It all seems to amount to a concerted effort to move on from Bo's fall and the murder allegations associated with him. Speed is of the essence, with little time left before this year's planned generational shift in the Communist Party.
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