March 15, 2012, by China Policy Institute

Act Two: Bo Loses Job

By Zhengxu Wang.

More than a month after the Chongqing Vice Mayor’s alleged defection attempt at the US Consulate in Chengdu (see an early China Policy Post here ), the other shoe of the drama has now fallen. Yesterday the Chinese Communist Party announced that Bo Xilai was removed from his post as the Party Secretary of Chongqing.

We’ve seen this coming. As hinted at in the earlier blog piece, after the Wang Lijun defection incident, something must have been coming to Bo. The matters which remained were just what that was going to be and when it would occur. Certainly it would take the Centre a few weeks to consider the outcome of a preliminary investigation of the matter.

Given the highly secretive nature of China’s politics, there is not much that an outside observer can do during such a period, so all comments and observations must remain speculative.  In fact, during that period in which the Centre looked into the matter and the various parts of the leadership tried to strike a deal about it, not even Bo Xilai himself could have had much knowledge about what was coming.

So for the last few weeks, Bo must have been going through one of the most gruelling times of his whole life. The media spot light was on him when he attended the National People’s Congress  (the Lianghui) session and gave press conferences there. He pretended to be calm and on top of things, but people did not miss the obvious signs of a stressful and uneasy soul inside him.

Certainly the Lianghui prevented the decision to remove him as far as going public concerns until now.  Now the Party has made it public, we must wonder whether there is more to come. In this regard, the last shoe has not fallen yet.

He has now been removed from his post in Chongqing. At 63, he is eligible to serve another five-year term in the Politburo. It is unclear whether he will be given a new, obviously less important portfolio, or whether he will remain un-appointed until retirement.

There is even the question of whether he will be able to retain his seat in the Politburo. Shanghai’s Chen Liangyu lost it after running into problems with the Centre, and was later sentenced to a jail term. This now becomes the most critical question for Bo Xilai.

The appointment of Zhang Dejiang, the vice premier and politburo member, as Bo’s replacement in Chongqing must be a temporary one. Earlier there was rumour that one of Hu Jintao’s protégés, the Party Secretary of Hunan, Zhou Qiang, would take over from Bo in Chongqing. The choice of Zhang as taker of that seat for now appears to be a compromise between various power groups in the top leadership. This also serves to moderate the impression that Bo fell mainly because Hu Jintao disliked him.

Bo’s trusted lieutenant, Mayor Huang Qifan, will likely suffer some collateral damage. In the short-run he is likely to be retained, to give a sense of stability for officials in Chongqing as well as lending Zhang assistance while he settles in. But because he has been closely associated with Bo in his career, it is unlikely that he will stay on for long.

All the next set of outcomes is reserved for Act Three next. Stay tuned.

Dr Zhengxu Wang is  Deputy Director of the China Policy Institute and Lecturer at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

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