Bo Xilai: Chinese Politician On Hunger Strike

Mark Stone, China Correspondent
Bo Xilai: Chinese Politician On Hunger Strike

A disgraced politician at the centre of a scandal which rocked the Chinese Communist Party and left a British businessman murdered is reportedly on hunger strike in his jail cell.

Bo Xilai, once a man tipped for the very top of Chinese politics, is said to be refusing to cooperate with police and government investigators.

Mr Bo, who is accused of multiple counts of corruption and misuse of office, has been in custody since his dramatic downfall almost exactly a year ago.

His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last year.

She was sentenced to life in prison for poisoning Mr Heywood in a hotel room in the city of Chongqing in November 2011.

According to two sources speaking to the Reuters news agency, Mr Bo is not physically fit to stand trial at the moment.

"He was on hunger strike twice and force-fed," one anonymous source told Reuters.

Sky News was aware of reports two months ago that Mr Bo had been admitted to hospital but nothing official was confirmed at the time.

However, one of the Reuters sources has now claimed that one of his hunger strikes did result in a hospital admission.

"He was not tortured, but fell ill and was taken to a hospital in Beijing for treatment," the source said.

The other source, who is also not named by Reuters, said that Mr Bo had refused to shave for months.

"His beard is long, chest-length.... he refused to cooperate," the source said.

"He wouldn't answer questions and slammed his fist on a table and told them they were not qualified to question him and to go away."

Before his downfall, which genuinely shook the ruling Communist Party and surprised the nation, Bo Xilai was heading for the elite core of the party.

He would almost certainly have been chosen as one of the seven men on the Standing Committee of the Politburo who run the country.

His downfall was unceremonious and came very swiftly following the revelation that his wife was behind the murder of Neil Heywood, a close business associate of the Bo family.

The conspiracy began to unravel after Mr Bo's chief of police in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, left his post and fled to a US consulate. Mr Wang asked for political asylum and told the Americans that Bo's wife had poisoned Mr Heywood.

His asylum request was rejected but the lurid claim could not be ignored. The fact that Mr Wang had chosen to tell the Americans and not his own superiors was an acute embarrassment for the Communist Party. Within months, Wang and Gu were tried, convicted and jailed.

Mr Bo's trial is yet to happen and the entire episode has been fuelled on rumour.

Last month, speculation mounted that his trial was to take place within days at a courthouse in the small city of Guiyang.

The reports were denied by the Communist Party but in a sign of a complete lack of trust in the system, scores of journalists - local and international - made the journey from Beijing to the courthouse.

One suggestion is that the trial was indeed due to take place in Guiyang but had to be cancelled at the last minute because of Mr Bo's ill health caused by the hunger strikes.

The latest speculation is that his trial will not take place before the Communist Party Congress in early March.

The Communist Party is obsessed with stability and the need to control events. The Bo saga proved to be a rare moment in which the party struggled to control events.

The party machine is determined not to allow any part of the scandal to destabilise a key period of transition as Xi Jinping takes over as the country's new leader.

Mr Xi has pledged to tackle corruption among officials. Making a public example of Bo Xilai will prove that the pledge is serious.

However, conversely it could simply draw unwanted attention to the fact that a man right at the top of the political system was rotten. It may prompt public questions about who else is corrupt as well.