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China Attempts to Contain High-Level Political Scandal

April 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
China has tried to clamp down on Internet discussions and move beyond a scandal surrounding the once-powerful political leader Bo Xilai, who was removed from the ruling Communist Party's Politburo while his wife was named the main suspect in the murder of a British businessman. Margaret Warner reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to our second Asia story: a political scandal rocking China that includes allegations of murder.

Margaret Warner has our report.

MARGARET WARNER: At the center of the drama, Bo Xilai, the most senior Chinese leader to fall in more than two decades.

He was once viewed as a political golden boy. The son of a revolutionary hero, Bo moved up the ladder quickly, becoming mayor of the coastal economic hub Dalian, then Communist Party chief of a southwestern mega-city of 30 million, Chongqing. There, he seized national attention for launching a Maoist-style “Red Songs” campaign and for a tough anti-corruption drive that racked up 2,000 arrests.

But things started unraveling in early February when his ally, police chief Wang Lijun, was demoted, fled to the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu, and began talking. Up until then, the charismatic Bo had been angling for promotion to the party’s most elite ruling circle, the Politburo’s Standing Committee.

Instead, on March 15, he was ousted from his Chongqing post. Meanwhile, rumors spread on Chinese social media sites like Weibo that police chief Wang had implicated Bo’s wife, glamorous lawyer and businesswoman Gu Kailai, in the mysterious death last November of a British businessman Neil Heywood. Then, yesterday, Bo was stripped of his remaining party posts for — quote — “serious discipline violations,” and his wife was detained as chief suspect in the murder of Heywood.

LIU WEIMIN, spokesman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): Regarding British citizen Neil Heywood’s death, this case is following the due legal process and the Jurisdiction Department will handle it according to the law.

MARGARET WARNER: British Prime Minister David Cameron also weighed in on a trip to Indonesia.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: I think it’s very important that we get to the truth about what happened in this very disturbing case, very tragic case.

MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, China has clamped down on Internet discussions of the Bo Xilai scandal. Searches for him on Weibo today produced a message that reads, “According to relevant laws and policies, Bo Xilai can not be found.”