China's "trial of the century," that of expelled Communist party member Bo Xilai, takes place tomorrow in China’s Shandong province. Xilai faces charges of corruption, accepting bribes, and abuse of power. The result of the trial is almost certainly decided: Guilty.
The scandal surrounding the Xilai family centers around British businessman Neil Heywood, who was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room in November 2011. Soon afterwards, the Chongqing police chief at the time, Wang Lijun — who was also Bo’s right-hand man — turned up at a U.S. Consulate accusing Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, of murdering Heywood over a business dispute.
In August of last year, Kailai was given a suspended death sentence for the murder. A month later, Lijun, who was not given asylum and was subsequently arrested by the Chinese authorities, was given a 15-year imprisonment sentence. He was found guilty of taking bribes, abusing power, and bending the law for personal gain.
Now it is Xilai's turn to face his sentence. Ninety-nine percent of Chinese cases end in conviction and trials routinely focus on appropriate punishment rather than establishing whether the accused is guilty or innocent. In turn, to lessen their punishment, most accused parties choose to not contest the charges. Kailai did the same at her trial, resulting in a suspended death penalty.
While procedure will be followed carefully, the sensitivity of Xilai's case means sentencing will have been decided at the highest levels in advance of the trial. China does not have a formal plea bargaining structure like the U.S. does, but the government makes it clear that confessions are a defendant's best hope for a lenient sentence.
Also, Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, throughout his rise up the ranks, has lobbied heavily in favor of stomping out any corruption and abuse of power associated with political positions. When he came to power in November 2012, he reinstated these objectives. Xilai's conviction will prove to be a great success for Jinping's career and will be used tactfully to showcase his efforts and devotion to his anti-corruption cause.
General public opinion in China also works heavily against Xilai. The public is incensed about political corruption, and high-ranking political officials are rarely held accountable for their misdemeanors.
So, considering how the Chinese justice system works, the ruling elite’s interests, and the prevailing public opinion, Xilai will probably escape the death penalty but will face a lengthy (and pre-determined) imprisonment sentence.