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Trial of the century begins in China

Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 | 12:10 AM ET
A screen shows the picture of the sentence of Chinese politician Bo Xilai (Center) on September 22, 2013 in Beijing, China.
Getty Images
A screen shows the picture of the sentence of Chinese politician Bo Xilai (Center) on September 22, 2013 in Beijing, China.

The widely-publicized trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai got underway in the city of Jinan on Thursday, with a guilty verdict for charges of corruption and the abuse of power widely seen as a done deal.

The hearing of Bo, the former Communist Party chief of Chongqing in southwestern China, is the most politically-charged trial of a Chinese politician in more than three decades and follows a scandal that rocked the establishment last year.

Analysts say Bo, a high-profile former senior politician, is almost certain to be found guilty in a verdict that was most probably decided before the trial began.

(Read more: China's fallen former high-flyer Bo to stand trial Thursday)

"Bo is expected to be found guilty," Willy Lam, professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNBC Asia's "The Call."

"For such sensitive cases, the wording of the sentence is decided by the standing committee of the politburo, so the judges already know the sentence before the trial started," he added, referring to the decision-making body of the Chinese Communist Party.

China's 'trial of the century' kicks off
Former Chinese politician Bo Xilai set to face a court in the eastern city of Jinan to answer to charges of bribery and corruption. CNBC's Eunice Yoon has more.

A mix of reporters, members of Bo's family and the public were present at the hearing, CNBC correspondent Eunice Yoon reported from outside the courtroom in Jinan.

The trial is expected to last one to two days.

New era

The court live blogged the proceedings of Bo's trial, which has been billed as an open trial and a way for the government to show the trial is fair and transparent.

(Read more: China's anti-corruption drive hits new year sales)

However, there was a heavy police presence around the court to steer away Bo supporters, while on Twitter, debate focused on whether the trial was open.

Bo was a fast-rising star of the Chinese Communist Party before a murder scandal involving his wife Gu Kailai emerged last year. Gu was accused and convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, a business partner and family friend, in November 2011.

Bo Xilai is being treated with kid gloves: Pro
Willy Lam, Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong thinks disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai is being treated too leniently as a result of a possible deal with Xi Jinping's administration.

The sentencing of Bo is expected to reflect the government's efforts to clamp down on corruption, analysts said.

"The charges against Bo are on corruption and ironically Bo was famous for being anti-corruption and relatively speaking he is less corrupt than some of China's other politicians. So the charge may not resonate too well," Cheng Li, director of research at the Brookings Institute in Washington, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box."

"On the other hand, the new leadership has been doing really well on corruption issues. The case has also being going on for 18 months, people are tired of the case. So the leadership has a good chance at the moment," he added.

(Read more: Neil Heywood's family calls for compensation from China)

Wild card

There was some talk that Bo, viewed as a politically-savvy politician, could use the trial as an opportunity to send a message to the government.

A guilty plea would suggest that he has agreed to a deal for leniency, but he could plead not guilty to the charge of an abuse of power in an effort to show that he is the victim of a power struggle, sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters.

"He could play a wild card," said Li. "It's not a totally secret trial. So if he decides to break the deal and do his own thing, there could be a surprise although the chances are slim."

(Read more: China charges disgraced politician Bo Xilai with corruption)

Bo's fall from grace has sparked a debate between his leftist supporters, who favor the revolutionary ideals of the Mao Zedong era, and reformers who are pushing for a more political and economic changes.

"What will be interesting is to see the reaction of the president, who is a great fan of Bo Xilai. [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is considered left-wing and he went to Jinan," said Jim Walker, founder and CEO of Asianomics.

— By CNBC.Com's Dhara Ranasinghe; follow her on Twitter @DharaCNBC

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