x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

China's convenient trial

As expected, Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in a farcical piece of theatre that fooled nobody.

A multimillion dollar business deal, an alleged affair, blackmail, murder by poison and a police cover-up - the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, screamed scandal from day one. And it ended, more or less, as expected yesterday when she received a suspended death sentence for killing British businessman Neil Heywood.

The guilty verdict, and to an extent the sentence, was anticipated afterGu admitted to the crime earlier this month. Nevertheless,the evidence revealed embarrassing details about corrupt politics in Chongqing, the province where Mr Bo was a rising political star just six months ago. Why did Beijing's leaders, normally adverse to airing dirty laundry in public, allow such aspectacle?

Since the 1990s, Beijing has sought to deflect blame for mismanagement and corruption to the provinces.Yet theBo scandal deeply disrupted political order in the capital.The powerful internal security chief, Zhou Yongkang, is widely believed to have lost influence after the scandal because of his ties to Mr Bo.

Still, the days when judicial theatre can deflect from the real problems China faces - corruption, elitism and unresponsiveness - are numbered. Like governments everywhere, Beijing might find that the best way of fixing deficits in its administration is toaddress them directly.