February 13, 2012, by China Policy Institute
Chongqing’s Bo Feels the Pressure as Aide is Put Under Investigation
On Tuesday, explosive news hit the internet in China concerning the vice mayor of Chongqing in China’s southwest and how he had sought asylum in the US Consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, a three hour drive from Chongqing. Wang Lijun, the police chief of Chongqing who has led forceful campaigns which have cracked down on gangsters, was elected Vice Mayor in September last year. On the 3rd of February, the Chongqing government announced that in a round of changes to the division of labour, Wang’s portfolio had shifted from law enforcement to the softer areas of culture and education.
That made big news right away, as rumours spread on the internet that he had fallen out of the favour with the Chongqing leadership and was now facing corruption and other charges. In subsequent days he appeared in the official media, visiting universities and similar places, telling the reporters that he was learning about the responsibilities of his new position.
Suddenly, news then appeared that he went into the US Consulate. China’s security forces surrounded the Consulate compound and he was later taken away by the State Security Bureau personnel as required by the country’s central leadership in Beijing.
The public in China was left greatly confused and perplexed as regards what happened. Fierce speculation ensued. The microblog site at Sina.com has seen several million posts about this incident in the last two days.
The US government later confirmed that he sought a meeting at the Chengdu Consulate. The Chinese official Xinhua News agency later confirmed that Wang “entered and stayed in” the US Consulate and his actions are now under investigation by authorities. Seeking a meeting with US officials without clearing the matter with his leaders were a violation of state laws and party rules, to say the least.
What really lies behind this? To make sense of it we need to put the incident in the larger context of China’s elite politics as the Party approaches its five-yearly Congress due later this year. At the Congress, power transition from the current leadership to the next is due to take place, and nine persons will be chosen to sit in the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, effectively becoming the top rulers of China for the next five to ten years.
Among the contenders for these positions is the Party Secretary of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, who has fiercely campaigned to reach such a goal over the last two to three years. He gained popularity in some sectors of Chinese society, including the leadership, by launching a crack-down on crimes and gangsters and by promoting the revival of revolutionary culture.
His “fighting the black” (cracking-down on Chinese mafia) and “singing the red” (singing revolutionary songs) campaigns were accompanied by an increasing chorus among media and scholars who have praised the “Chongqing Model” of development, in which the government plays an active role in the promotion of economic development and raises prospects for the underclass, achieving more equitable income distribution. For some observers, he looked promising as a candidate to secure a slot in the Politburo Standing Committee this Autumn.
But apparently some of the top leaders do not favour him. Since late 2009, the Central Committee sent investigative missions to the City, partly to put a check on the fever of both “fighting the black” and “singing the red,” but probably also to take note of possible mismanagement, corruption, incompetence and other problems in City governance that may be used to thwart Bo’s political ambitions.
Wang’s election to the position of Vice Mayor probably marked the climax of Bo’s successes in Chongqing. But very soon Bo started to face strong headwinds. When Wang was removed from his law-enforcement portfolio, it became very clear that the Centre is putting pressure on Bo.
How far the Centre was prepared to go after Bo remains unclear and whether Bo will suffer a similar fate of the former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, who was removed from office and sentenced in court after being disobedient to the Centre, are matters yet to be found out.
In the last few days people have still been busy guessing and then came the explosive news of Wang’s alleged attempt to defect. What an interesting time to watch Chinese politics.
Dr Zhengxu Wang is Deputy Director of the China Policy Institute and Lecturer at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.
Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.