China’s biggest political crisis in decades took a dramatic turn with the removal of one of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) biggest stars from his post and his wife’s arrest on suspicion of murder.
Bo Xilai (薄熙來), the charismatic former party leader of Chongqing city, had been tipped for the very highest echelons of power in China until he was fired from the post last month before being suspended from the politburo on Tuesday.
The announcement that he had been removed from the powerful 25-member politburo was followed by the shock revelation that his wife was being investigated over the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Bo’s wife Gu Kailai (谷開來) and Zhang Xiaojun (張曉軍), a medical orderly at Bo’s home, fell out with Heywood over “economic interests,” the Xinhua news agency reported.
Both are now under investigation for murder, while Bo Xilai is suspected of being involved in “serious discipline violations,” Xinhua reported. In China, that usually refers to corruption.
Analysts say the rare, public scandal has exposed deep rifts within the ruling party ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition due to take place later this year.
The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the CCP, yesterday said Bo had “seriously violated the party discipline, causing damage to the cause and the image of the party and state.”
The Xinhua dispatches came late on Tuesday just before midnight, confirming China’s biggest party upheaval since a purge before the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The announcement of Bo’s ouster and his wife’s arrest came in brief dispatches from the official news agency just before midnight.
Before his downfall, the former commerce minister had been tipped to become a member of the party’s Standing Committee — the apex of political power in China — when seven of its nine members step down in the autumn.
His revival of “red” culture — including sending officials to work in the countryside and pushing workers to sing revolutionary songs — drew accolades from the traditionalist left of the party.
However, the 62-year-old’s high-profile campaign, coupled with his “princeling” status as the son of a hero of China’s revolution, alienated many in the party.
Last month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) warned against a repeat of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of brutal chaos launched by revolutionary Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), in comments seen as a swipe at Bo’s Maoist revival campaign.
“One party, two factions will remain. The princelings will still survive, they will continue to be a very, very important force. But Bo Xilai will be gone forever,” said Cheng Li, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “For other leaders, no matter what faction they belong to, when they see all these charges, no one will support Bo Xilai.”
Bo’s troubles started in -February when Wang Lijun (王立軍), his former police chief, fled to a US consulate and reportedly asked for asylum.
The scandal remained shrouded in mystery until news emerged late last month that London had asked China to reinvestigate the death of a British national in Chongqing in November, amid rumors it might have been linked to Bo’s family.
Bo’s downfall appeared on the front pages of all the major Chinese newspapers yesterday and was the most talked-about subject on China’s hugely popular weibo sites — microblogs similar to Twitter.