China Policy Institute: Analysis


Wang Lijun

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

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.

Chongqing’s Bo Feels the Pressure as Aide is Put Under Investigation

By Zhengxu Wang.

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 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.

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