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Chinese Media Warn Against Rumors in Bo Xilai Scandal

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai in Beijing. (File Photo)
China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai in Beijing. (File Photo)
Stephanie Ho

The scandal surrounding disgraced politician Bo Xilai continues to reverberate in China, where official media Monday is calling for a tougher crackdown on online rumors.

A headline article on the front page of Monday's People's Daily newspaper says “Internet Rumors Harm People and Harm our Society.” The English-language China Daily carries a Xinhua article quoting experts calling for harsh criminal sanctions against those who spread rumors online.

Jonathan Fenby, a former editor for the Observer and the South China Morning Post newspapers, says the Bo Xilai story is on two levels.

One is the surface story of Bo, his wife, servants and the murder of a British acquaintance, Neil Hayward.

The other story, he says, is one that is illustrative of the way the China works today, specifically the desire of some politicians to dispose of Bo as a political foe.

He spoke with VOA's Ira Mellman.

Neither article specifically mentions the case of recently fallen politician Bo Xilai. But the Xinhua article says authorities detained six people for spreading rumors last month about a coup in Beijing, which was supposedly backed by Bo supporters in the central government.

The charismatic Bo is the former party secretary in the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing. Last week's announcement that he was being fired from his position as one of the top leaders in the Chinese Communist party was accompanied by a report that his wife, Gu Kailai, is being investigated in the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November. It also noted that Heywood had been friendly with the couple's son, Bo Guagua, who is studying at Harvard.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin could not say whether the Chinese government has been in touch with the U.S. government concerning Bo Guagua.

He said only that he is, in his words, “not aware of the specifics.”

When asked whether there has been any progress in the investigation into Heywood's death, Liu said only that the matter is being handled by judicial authorities according to law and in a timely manner.

Jeanette Barbieri, assistant political science professor at Hollins University in the U.S. state of Virginia, says the Chinese government appears to have decided that quick action is the best way to contain damage from the scandal.

“And I think the party recognizes that an incident like this can make ordinary people in China lose confidence in the Chinese Communist party," said Barbieri. "And so, they want to do damage control, they want to minimize the disruption that this sort of visible and obvious representation of discord within the party can do.”

Barbieri says Beijing wants the matter to be largely resolved before a party conference later this year, which will see an across-the-board leadership transition.

An article on the front page of the Chongqing Daily, in the city where Bo used to be the boss, said the investigation into his tenure there is a “fortunate thing” for the party and the country. It added that the most important thing now is for officials to follow party discipline and maintain social stability.

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