Return to Transcripts main page


The Mighty Fall of Bo Xilai; Hundreds of Dead Bodies in Syria; America, Land of the Free -- But Unequal?; From Freedom Fighter to Fearsome Leader

Aired August 22, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

It was the biggest scandal to rock China in decades, the downfall of a rising political star in an epic story that even Hollywood screenwriters couldn't have imagined. Trial began today for Bo Xilai, the former city boss accused of not only taking millions in bribes but of covering up the murder of a British businessman committed by his own wife.

The revelation shook China to the core. Bo was an extremely popular politician in his town of chunking. He invoked Maoist rhetoric and was hailed as a man of the people.

The son of China's -- one of China's most senior politicians, Bo was even a candidate for promotion to China's top ruling body.

But what's most important is that this saga exposed the inner dealings of China's most powerful leaders and the rampant corruption that usually goes ignored.

Bo's conviction, it seems, is a foregone conclusion. But Bo today mounted a feisty defense, calling one witness a crazy dog and trashing witness testimony including his wife's.

All eyes are on the trial, but also on China's new leader, Xi Jinping and whether the story of Bo Xilai will force China to make some dramatic reforms.

Cheng Li is a China expert from Brookings and he joins me now from Washington.

Thanks for being with us.

What does this trial say about China?

CHENG LI, SR. FELLOW, BROOKINGS CHINA CENTER: Well, China is in a very dramatic moment in its history, on the one hand, that is consimer (ph) open trial and through social media the information shared by the general public.

But at the same time, you also see severe koncho (ph) from the leadership and the vikoncho (ph) media and the koncho (ph) and a real political reform, even the moment for constitutionalism. So in the public view, that they are very cynical about the legal and the political system.

GORANI: So what about the leadership? Bo Xilai was once a very popular politician locally. He was even, as we said, tapped for one of the top leadership jobs. He's what's called a princeling, in other words, one of the children of the top Communist leadership in China.

But now his downfall says what about the leadership in that country?

CHENG: Well, we should remember that Bo Xilai was caught not because of a corruption charge now, the heavily folks are, but because of the unexpected incident that his police chief debacked the U.S. consul in Chongqing 18 months ago, which involved Bo Xilai's wife's murder case about British businessman.

But now the leadership are focused on corruption. And that itself makes sense, from a leadership perspective, because they don't want to further review all these terrible things happening in China -- among the Chinese elite, especially some of their princelings.

But by doing so, that you putting yourself in an awkward position because many people in China believe Bo Xilai is not that corrupted compared with some other leaders. And actually Bo Xilai is famous for being anti-corruption campaign during his tenure in Chongqing.

Now today's court in the trial also further confirmed the view that Bo Xilai actually did excellent job in coming to defend himself on these corruption charge. He even denied this 430,000 bribery or 80,000 U.S. dollars bribery. So the Chinese even citizens just laugh about the whole things. I think the prosecutor did a poorly job.

GORANI: So you think the prosecutor did a poorly job, but either way, this is a trial that's been in the public eye and very much a subject of fascination for the Chinese.

I'm interested also as well in sort of the new Chinese leadership, Xi Jinping being one of them. The rebirth of the Communist leadership coupled with what is capitalist excess in that country. You've written about that as well.

CHENG: Well, yes, and certainly the new leadership use anti- corruption as the campaign to gain the public confidence. But now with this trial, certainly in many ways, the people support this anti- corruption.

But again, Bo Xilai was not famous for being corrupted leader by rather by all other kinds of wrongdoings, including possible obstruction of justice. But that charge was dropped. Now so therefore the liberal intellectuals (inaudible) legal professions are very cynical about that trial. They think that Bo Xilai deserved more severe charge accusation rather this focus on corruption. But some of his supporters believe that Bo Xilai himself is not corrupted. So that putting leadership in awkward position.

GORANI: What is the identity, I mean, what I'm interested in as well, the identity of the new China. As we mentioned there, this isn't the China of the '70s -- certainly not. You have a Communist leadership with political, centralized political control, certainly, censorship -- I'd be interested in fact to knowing if this segment is airing in China. I doubt that it is.

But at the same time the attempts to open the economy so that it becomes a well-oiled functioning capitalist system. How do those two thing coexist longer term?

CHENG: Well, I think that's the problem. That's a serious issue. You have a very dynamic society. You have the emerging middle class and then emerging legal professional communities, which very aggressively criticize some of the power of the youth and the leaders, even before Bo Xilai fell. And but at the same time, you still see the leadership is very nervous about if they lose control the country will be in a theotical (ph) situation. This is a message I constantly remind people that's a reason they only want to focus on corruption issue.

Now I think ultimately it depends on whether they can really promote economic reforms, to make middle class happy, make more people join the middle class. Now that is the issue they were discussing October meeting. So certainly they want to close that issue, the Bo Xilai case, and move forward.

GORANI: So wanting more people to join the economic middle class is one thing; but the political middle class, if we can call it that, in other words, politically aware, relatively free in terms of speech, that's not on the cards, certainly not a desire of the leadership.

CHENG: Absolutely, because people call for real justice and (inaudible) judiciary independence. At the moment, it's quite weak because the whole thing, it's under the party control. That's the movement called the constitutionalism, and but the top leadership, I think, is still is struggling whether they should go with that constitutional development on the right side of history, or just to prevent this kind of full political reform.

But in today's China, economic reform require political change because the problem like a state monopoly and corruption are related in ways the economic monopolize the structure by state-owned enterprises. But this is economic issue. But also fundamentally is a political as well.

GORANI: And where will the new leader, Xi Jinping, fall on all this, do you think?

CHENG: Well, it's I think he will react to the public opinion if we (inaudible) demand and get more momentum if there's more general consensus that the party should reform itself, should be under the constitution while they're above the constitution, he would go for it. But at the same time, he need to pursue it, pursue his conservative colleagues to move forward. But that's the moment of China's history.

GORANI: Certainly a balancing act, and as you said, a significant moment.

Cheng Li, we really appreciate your take on this, Cheng Li of Brookings joining us from Washington.

China, of course, has been reluctant to allow the international community to intervene against Syria's Bashar al-Assad. And now opposition activists claim that a chemical weapons attack on civilians Wednesday may have killed more than 1,300 people in shocking, truly shocking images.

And horrific videos including dead children, shoulder to shoulder, lined up, wrapped in white cloth. The opposition claims they're victims of a nerve gas attack.

The Syrian government is denying the claims but will not allow U.N. inspectors into the sites.

It's extremely hard to get journalists into Syria under these circumstances.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is there, where he's been visiting hospitals, where some of the victims were taken.


GORANI: All right, Fred Pleitgen joins me now from Damascus.

Fred, what did authorities allow you to see today?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We really didn't have very much time on the ground, Hala, so far, but we did try to get somewhat of a picture of what might have happened.

One of the places they actually allowed us to visit was a hospital that said that right after this offensive started by the government, early Wednesday morning, they started taking mass casualties there. It's the Meze (ph) Medical Hospital, which is a civilian hospital, not a military hospital. They told us that they received mass casualties and they said that most of it and that all of the wounds that those people had were from conventional weapons, that they didn't have anyone who seemed to have been subjected to chemical agents in any way, shape or form.

The other thing that I was able to do is I was able to speak with some people who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the ones where these attacks allegedly took place, and they say that, yes, there was a big government operation going on. They had warplanes overhead, dropping bombs. They had massive artillery fire, but they said that they didn't feel any sort of burning sensation in their eyes or anything, anything that would have led them to believe that they were being subjected to chemical agents as well.

Of course, one of the things we also have to point out, Hala, is that I'm operating here in the government-controlled parts of Damascus, so the people that I'm speaking to, all of them, are very sympathetic to the government. But they say that, yes, there was a big operation, but they had no evidence to suggest that any sort of chemical agents might have been used on the part of the government troops, Hala.

GORANI: So what are authorities, what is the regime saying about all this amateur video that has emerged online, showing so many people apparently dead without visible wounds?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, what the regime is saying is that it's baseless to assume that they'd use chemical weapons. But one of the things that we can clearly see is that, of course, they realize how high the stakes are and how important all of this is.

One of the things that indicates that is that the military put out this statement. In all the times that I've been here, I have never been able to get an official from the military to tell me anything. And yet they were very quick to put out a statement in this case, again, calling these claims baseless, saying that their military hadn't done this; that this was simply the work of outside powers, trying to get other countries to intervene here in Syria.

The government, of course, said in the form of the information minister that it had evidence that the rebels might be behind using any sort of chemical agents. So they flat out deny this.

But clearly they are somewhat nervous and they do realize how high the stakes are in this case, Hala.

GORANI: So then why won't authorities allow U.N. inspectors to visit these sites, then, if there's nothing to hide?

PLEITGEN: Well, the jury's not out on that yet. The U.N., of course, is saying that its inspectors should go there immediately. But of course, as you know, in Syria, all of this is a very, very long process. I actually bumped into the head of the U.N. mission here, the inspectors, Ake Sellstrom, today, and I asked him whether or not his team would be allowed to get on the ground and get there fast.

And he said simply he wasn't allowed to talk to me, and he quickly made his way in the other direction. All of this is very sensitive. The U.N. inspectors are here on the very sensitive mission, a very fragile mission. The Syrian government agreed to this after -- for a long time being very reluctant. And of course the mission itself is only to investigate three sites that had nothing to do with what potentially happened here on Wednesday. So now what the U.N. is subject to, as it faces all this international pressure to get out there as fast as possible, but at the same time it has to deal with the Syrian authorities. And of course they're not only reluctant, but as you know, bureaucratically they are simply not ones that have a culture of openness. In many cases, you don't even know who to talk to in certain ministries to try and achieve something. So you have that very thick bureaucracy. You have a very reluctant Syrian regime. At the same time, you have the U.N. mission that's under all this international pressure. It's a very, very difficult situation that the U.N. inspectors are in, Hala.

GORANI: Fred Pleitgen in Damascus, thank you.


GORANI: Well, from Syria back to China, then as we said earlier, the new Chinese leadership says it's rooting out corruption. Well, maybe they should heed that old French expression, "cherchez la femme." According to "Forbes," half of China's corruption cases in the past year have been sparked by sex scandals. Across the country, government officials and even judges have been caught with their pants down -- literally -- spending public funds on prostitutes and what are called second wives, mistresses who've become chic accessories to the good life.

And if you think a Prada bag is expensive, the cash flow from corruption is equal to 3 percent of China's GDP.

And after a break, we'll look for inspiration from words that were spoken 50 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. A dream deferred, when we come back.



GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Five decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. confronted racism and segregation in America with four simple words. Everybody knows and remembers: "I have a dream." His speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963, has come to represent a call for equality and civil rights in the U.S. and around the world.

But the march on Washington at the time was also about jobs. A plea for equal economic rights, for blacks in America. Listen.


REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: America has given the Negro people a back check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."


KING: But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.


GORANI: Fifty years later, this economic inequality persists. Take a look at one indicator, the unemployment rate for whites versus blacks since 1975, when this data was first reported. The purple line shows unemployment for blacks, the green line for whites, while both rates rise and fall over time with the economic ups and downs, the space between the two lines remains largely unchanged with black unemployment often double that of whites.

So it was Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, at least economically speaking, still just a dream?

Maya Wiley is the founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion, which aims to close inequality gaps in the United States.

So thanks for being with us. When you look at that unemployment graph, and you look at other indicators like household net worth for blacks versus whites in this country, this inequality persists, does it not?

MAYA WILEY, FOUNDER And PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION: Yes and we should acknowledge that we made tremendous progress as a result of the march on Washington 50 years ago. It's part of how we got the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate in employee, how we got the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But as we've seen, despite the tremendous gains we've made, we haven't completely finished cashing that check that Martin Luther King talked about, which means investing in the kind of opportunity that makes where we all get to feed our families and take care --


GORANI: And why not, do you think?

WILEY: Well ,there are several reasons. And for one thing, we've got so much with overt racism, we still have it society. But we have much more complex dynamics happening now. And one of the things that the social science is telling us is that our brains on race are operating in ways that it's much more subtle.

So for instance, if your name is Lakisha Washington (ph), you're going to have a harder time getting a job even though your resume may look just as good as Emily Walsh (ph) because --


GORANI: One sounds like a black name, the other one sounds like a more Caucasian name.

WILEY: That's correct. And even if those resumes both look like good qualified candidates, that's something different and more complex that's happening, the fact that even in our unconscious minds, while we consciously want to be very fair-minded and that's one of the gains of the march on Washington, is that the country we don't think it's OK to discriminate. Yet --


GORANI: (Inaudible) laws, in fact, that you can't.

WILEY: It's enshrined in laws that you can't. But in many of those laws, you have to prove forms of conscious discrimination when a lot of it is happening in much more unconscious ways.

GORANI: So that sounds like a much harder problem to confront, yes?

WILEY: Well, here's the thing, we can confront it. One of the ways that we have to confront it is we have to find ways to create more affordable housing and more mixed racial communities. We're more segregated than we were, now both in housing and in education than we were before the 1960s. That's because we haven't paid attention to making sure we can afford to live together, that we have systems where our children can go to school with one another . And the reason that becomes so important is when we know each other, we break down some of those implicit stereotypes that we sometimes don't even know we're carrying.

GORANI: What about the kind of education, for instance, available to black Americans, versus that available to white Americans? Is there a difference? And if so, why?

WILEY: Well, it depends on where you are. So first of all, an overview, sure, there is a difference because many, many more blacks -- 75 percent of white kids are more likely to be in all-white schools; 40 percent of blacks are likely to be in all-black schools. So that's segregation.

There are poor white schools and there are a lot more poor black schools. So I think what we have to do is say the education system has to work for everyone. But we have to acknowledge that we have worse education where we have racially segregated black schools because, frankly, the cost of educating those kids are very high.

GORANI: So from the outside looking in, internationally where we air, all over the world, people will say America has a black president now. That's it. We're done. I mean, the highest office in the land is occupied by a black man --


RILEY: Which is symbolically very important and we shouldn't underreact. We have to acknowledge the importance of that, symbolically, both in this country and internationally.

Here's the thing. The president has an agenda that has said we need to raise the minimum wage. Black Americans are more likely to be in low- wage jobs in which they can't feed their families at the end of the month.

Congress right now is gridlocked. So we're not -- some of those solutions we're not seeing being passed by Congress.

GORANI: We mentioned the net household income because this is one of the most sort of jaw-dropping statistic I've seen because you can see it there, net worth by race in America, white -- this is household net worth. So it's homes, bank accounts everything that a household might own, $110,000 pretty much for whites; $69,000 for Asians; $7,000 for Hispanics and there at the end of the graph, for a black household, the average net worth is less than $5,000.

RILEY: When Martin Luther King Jr. said the check has come back marked "insufficient funds," part of what that has represented in this country is that we haven't paid attention to excluding blacks from opportunity like mortgage loans.

If you're black, earning $250,000 a year, you're more likely to have a subprime -- that means high interest rate loan -- than if you're a white earning $50,000.

GORANI: Why is that?

RILEY: That's because of a long history of mortgage discrimination, frankly, just mortgage discrimination.

GORANI: I mean, it just sounds like the deck is stacked against, I suppose African-Americans, you could say economically. You've mentioned several things that are important. First of all, let us name that sounds African-American on a r,sum, might be set to one side. More readily than a white American. Same with mortgages.

So essentially you have all these hurdles, even if you have the set of abilities.

RILEY: And we know that there's solutions. So if we were, instead of investing, $5 trillion worth of spending in wars across the country, across the world, we could actually invest more in say public transportation where we were able to help people who live in communities that don't have jobs and don't have cars get to the communities where the jobs are located. So two-thirds of low and moderate income jobs in this country are 90 minutes away from public transportation. Most of our public transportation -- our transportation dollars go to highways. We can fix that.

GORANI: People with cars.

Well, that's certainly something that when Europeans come to the U.S., they complain about, for other reasons, because they're so used to being able to get around.

Well, Maya Wiley, thank you very much for your take on this. On this almost the 50th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington. Thanks so much.

Now after the break, imagine another charismatic leader who stood up to the white majority in his country and changed it forever. Now imagine him three decades later, a controversial figure, reviled around the world. Five more years of Robert Mugabe when we come back.




GORANI: A final thought tonight, it's been a good week for dictators. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad remained openly defiant of the West and its ever- shifting red line. And in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, hounded from office two years ago, was airlifted out of prison and back into the political conversation.

Now imagine a world where another strong man crowned his fourth decade as his country's first and only head of state. Like a modern-day Caesar, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe rode in triumph to his latest inauguration. Tens of thousands packed the stadium today, celebrating his most recent reelection for another five-year term.

The generals saluted, cannons roared and jets flew in formation in tribute to the 89-year-old icon, Africa's longest serving leader. State television celebrated his 33 years in power with music videos.


GORANI: (Inaudible) over human rights abuses remain in place. The policy Mugabe called vile in his inaugural address. And yet as soldiers marched in lockstep, it was easy to forget that Mugabe first came to power as a freedom fighter who liberated his country from colonial rule.

And along with Nelson Mandela at the time, he became a symbol of a new enlightened Africa. But how differently history will view the legacy of these two men. Mandela kept his promise to serve only one year as South Africa's first post-apartheid president. Robert Mugabe has kept his medals and his iron grip on the country he helped create.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us at our website,, and you can follow me on Twitter, @halagorani. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.