A deputy mayor who was the protege of one of China’s most powerful leaders went on leave for overwork after meeting U.S. diplomats, fueling speculation of a political shakeup ahead of the country’s leadership transition this year.
Wang Lijun, the deputy mayor of Chongqing, requested a meeting that took place earlier this week at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters yesterday. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai called Wang’s visit a “very isolated case” that was “resolved relatively smoothly.”
Wang, 52, headed Chongqing’s police force from 2009 until last week, overseeing a crackdown on gangs that raised the profile of his patron Bo Xilai, Chongqing’s Communist Party secretary. Wang’s loss of his police portfolio and subsequent leave indicate that China’s leaders have spurned Bo and his development model, which focused on increased state-led social spending, political analyst Li Cheng said in an e-mail.
“The Chongqing model is over,” Li, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said in reference to Bo’s strategy, which also included a resurgence of songs and sayings lionizing socialism and Chairman Mao Zedong. “It means a landscape change in Chinese elite politics.”
Bo, who sits on China’s 25-member Politburo, had been seen as a potential candidate for membership in the elite Politburo Standing Committee, which now has nine members, according to Li and other analysts. The Communist Party meets later this year to choose the next generation of top leaders.
“It is a real blow for Bo,” Li said.
On Feb. 2, the Chongqing government said Wang had been relieved of his police duties and put in charge of areas including sanitation, athletics and education. Yesterday, after Wang met with U.S. officials, the Chongqing government said in a statement that he was suffering from “immense mental stress and serious physical discomfort,” and had been put on “vacation-style treatment.”
Chinese state media have so far kept quiet about Wang’s meeting at the U.S. consulate. Posts about Wang and discussions of Bo’s political future were widely available on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging service.
The official Xinhua News Agency published a story today from a Chongqing paper extolling the city’s progress in reducing crime and corruption since 2009, the year Wang became head of the local police, without mentioning him or Bo. Zhou Yongkang, China’s top law official and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, was in Chongqing yesterday for a legal conference, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily reported.
Nuland said the U.S. does not comment in issues of refugee status or asylum and said the meeting with Wang had been previously scheduled. She said Wang “left the consulate of his own volition.”
Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Beijing, said in an e-mail today that the U.S. had no further contact with Wang after he left the consulate and has no information on his whereabouts. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to meet Bo in Chongqing on Feb. 11.
Buangan would not comment on what Wang discussed at the meeting or address reports of increased Chinese police presence outside the consulate during Wang’s stay. He said there was never any threat to the Chengdu consulate, the closest U.S. diplomatic post to Chongqing.
Wang’s meeting won’t have any effect on Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.S. next week, Cui said at a briefing in Beijing today.
Before taking his position in Chongqing, a South Carolina-sized municipality with a population of about 30 million, Wang served as an official in northeastern China’s Liaoning province. Bo, the son of one of the founders of the People’s Republic of China, was governor there in 2001-2004, according to his official biography.