China uses Heywood death to make case against political corruption

China committed to expose political scandal surrounding Neil Heywood's murder Photo: AP Photo/

Beijing is promising a thorough investigation into the death, presumed murder, of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. State media has, during recent weeks, repeatedly told the Chinese public via editorials that senior officials are not immune from the law.

Bo Xilai and his wife are under investigation. She's being held by the police suspected of Mr Heywood's murder, Bo is being questioned by the internal discipline committee. The case is clouded by claims of massive corruption.

The state news agency, Xinhua, says the investigation shows that the Communist Party "will handle every discipline violation and never tolerate corruption."

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The fact that Bo and his wife are in custody is being shown as an example of how the Party always comes down hard on allegedly corrupt officials. In this case, one with a wife accused of a murky murder of a foreigner.

Go onto the Chinese version of Twitter and you'll get a different take on the Party and corruption.

One post reads "all officials are corrupt, if officials don't deal with corrupt ones then their careers won't prosper".

The editorials promising a full and thorough investigation into the Heywood affair will be welcomed internationally, especially by UK ministers who will say that's what they called for, but the promises are also useful PR for a One Party State which knows that corruption is the greatest danger to its continuing control of the country.

Prime Minister David Cameron talks to senior official of the Chinese Communist Party, Politburo member Li Changchun Credit: Leon Neal/PA Wire

Last year, President Hu Jintao made a speech at a huge event to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. Here's what he said:

"The Party is soberly aware of the gravity and danger of corruption that have emerged under the conditions of the Party being long in power...".

The battle against dodgy deals by Party officials from top to bottom took up a large section of his speech that day.

So internal corruption is seen as the number one threat to the most successful Communist leadership in history. Official figures show that last year 140,000 civil servants were investigated, accused of corrupt deals and the sums involved are getting bigger. Of course the official figure must be well below the actual numbers involved.

So a case which involves a party secretary who has the means to send his son to expensive English private schools and then Oxford university is just the sort of revelation which infuriates the vast majority of the hard working Chinese public.

Bo Xilai expelled from China' Communist Party for corruption Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

During his last public appearance in March, Bo Xilai was asked about how he could afford the school fees for Harrow and how his son could be driving around in a Ferrari, on a state salary. He claimed his son was on a scholarship and that he was the target of a smear campaign.

The Party is also promising that the case demonstrates the Party's commitment to the rule of law. Does the rule of law exist in China? Ask Ai Wei Wei, the dissident artist held for almost three months without charge last year, or the inmates of the black prisons I reported on last month.

Clearly the Party is sensitive to how this all looks to the Chinese public and an effort is being made to promise the investigation will be pursued according to the correct process.

However, many in China won't believe it will be because of previous government promises failing to reduce the amount of corruption in the world's second largest economy. They now have the unofficial media in the form of the internet to make their voices heard.