The US yesterday confirmed that a top official linked to one of China’s most high-profile Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders had visited one of its consulates, amid speculation he tried to defect.
The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment on rumors that Wang Lijun (王立軍) sought asylum, but the visit will further fuel growing intrigue surrounding Wang and his boss, Chongqing’s CCP Secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來).
As Bo’s deputy, Wang — whose current whereabouts are unknown — won a reputation for graft busting with a campaign to rid Chong-qing of corruption in which dozens of officials were arrested.
Analysts said the scandal surrounding Wang could hamper Bo’s chances of promotion to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, when seven members, including Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), step down later this year.
“Wang Lijun did request a meeting at the US Consulate General in Chengdu earlier this week in his capacity as vice mayor,” embassy spokesman Justin Higgins said.
“The meeting was scheduled, our folks met with him, he did visit the consulate and he later left the consulate of his own volition,” Higgins said.
He refused to comment on the rumors that Wang was seeking political asylum, which appear to have been fueled by reports that scores of police vehicles descended on the consulate on Tuesday evening.
Chongqing authorities removed Wang as police chief — a position he held in addition to vice mayor — last week before announcing on Wednesday he was on leave, receiving “vacation-style treatment” for stress and over-work.
“Sick leave” is a term often used as a euphemism for a political purge in China’s murky system.
“Wang’s dismissal is most likely the result of high-level in-fighting,” said Willy Lam (林和立), a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Bo’s chances for the [politburo appointment] have been adversely affected. It is a long-standing ‘organizational principle’ of the CCP that a region’s No. 1 has to take political responsibility for the misdemeanors of his subordinates,” he said.
As Bo’s right-hand man, Wang, 52, an ethnic Mongolian, gained national fame while toppling former city deputy police chief Wen Qiang (文強) in a massive crime crackdown. Wen was executed in 2010.
The Chongqing government refused comment on Wang’s visit to the consulate.
Meanwhile, muted reaction in state media suggests officials are eager to play down the Wang incident — at least for now.
Wang’s visit to the consulate was an “isolated incident” that had been resolved, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) said, adding that it would not affect a visit to the US by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) next week.
China’s state-controlled papers have stayed largely silent on the issue, suggesting a desire to limit speculation after an uproar on the Internet.
The official Chongqing Daily heaped praise on Chongqing’s anti-crime crackdown that Wang was instrumental in organizing, but did not mention him.
“The evil criminals have been destroyed, the people are clapping and cheering. The fight against the evil forces has been fully affirmed by the superiors and the community,” said the article, giving Bo prominent mention.
In Chongqing, some residents said they had heard the news, but continued to support Bo, a charismatic figure who has brought investment and publicity to the city and surrounding countryside.