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Mystery Death in China Prompts British Demands for Investigation

Henry Ridgwell

The death of British businessman Neil Heywood in the Chinese city of Chongqing has caused Beijing's biggest political scandal in years. The mystery surrounding the case has prompted calls in Britain for the government to press for a more thorough investigation. Analysts say there are deep political power games at play behind the scenes in China.

Forty-one-year-old British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in a hotel room in the city of Chongqing in November.

He was close to the flamboyant Communist Party leader of the city, Bo Xilai. Police have arrested Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, on suspicion of poisoning. But few details have emerged from the case.

The mystery has prompted calls from lawmakers in London to press Beijing for a deeper investigation.

“We have asked for, we have demanded an investigation. The Chinese authorities have agreed to conduct such an investigation,” said William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary:

British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the issue with Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo’s powerful Standing Committee.

Bo Xilai, the leader of Chongqing, had been widely expected to climb the ranks of the Communist Party. But his outspoken nature proved his downfall, says Professor Steve Tsang of the University of Nottingham.

“The next leader of China, Xi Jinping, would not like somebody like Bo Xilai to be on his team of nine Politburo Standing Committee members. Somebody like Bo Xilai is an unguided missile who could hit you as much as he could hit your political opponents,” Tsang said.

Chinese state media have suggested that Heywood became too entwined in the Bo family’s complex financial dealings.

Tsang says the apparent silence of Neil Heywood’s relatives - and the fact they agreed to a quick cremation of his body - have deepened the mystery. “The reaction of the Heywood family back in the UK is certainly not the usual reactions one would expect of a middle class, well-off English family,” he said.

Tsang says Bo Xilai had lost support within the Politburo.

“For nearly two months, the Chinese government insisted that Mr. Heywood was not murdered. And on the date when the top leadership finally could reach an agreement to suspend Mr. Bo of his Politburo membership, that was the day we were told that Mr. Heywood was murdered, and Mrs. Bo was the prime suspect. It’s all politically driven,” Tsang said.

Analysts say the timing of the scandal is difficult for Britain, as it tries to build closer trade and investment ties with China to help its ailing economy.

In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly reported Bo Xilai was a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee. VOA regrets the error.

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