The ambitious Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary of Chongqing in southwestern China, Bo Xilai (薄熙來), ran into a political storm yesterday after his deputy mayor went on leave amid unconfirmed rumors of infighting and even an attempted flight to a US consulate by the deputy.
The city administration said Chongqing Deputy Mayor Wang Lijun (王立軍) took sick leave for overwork. However, his abrupt move after years of serving Bo fanned rumors that Wang sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu, several hours drive from Chongqing, after a falling out amid a corruption probe.
The speculation about Wang seeking US protection could not be confirmed. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) told reporters he had “no information” about it.
Even if the rumors are untrue, Wang’s departure and the speculation it has fanned could hurt Bo, who is widely seen as seeking a spot in the next CCP central leadership, to be settled by late this year. China’s poker-laced leaders like to keep their political dramas muted and behind closed doors.
The political commotion also comes ahead of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) visit to the US next week on a trip that will underscore his virtual certainty of succeeding Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) from late this year.
“This will be a big blow to Bo Xilai, because Wang was instrumental in his anti-organized crime campaign and that was instrumental in building Bo’s appeal in public opinion and even among officials,” said Chen Ziming (陳子明), an independent academic who studies party politics.
“Now the hero of that campaign has turned into a scandal, so at the least that’s a blow to Bo’s public prestige,” said Chen, a former political prisoner who lives in Beijing.
Wang has been the law-and-order hatchet man of Bo, a charismatic politician who has encouraged a revival of socialist culture from the time of Mao Zedong (毛澤東), while seeking to transform Chongqing’s economy into a model of more equal growth.
Wang, 52, was reassigned last week from overseeing public security to education, environmental protection and other areas.