China said Wang Lijun, deputy mayor of Chongqing and protege of one of the nation’s most powerful leaders, spent one day in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu earlier this week, fueling speculation about a political shakeup.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency, citing the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office, said late yesterday that Wang entered the consulate on Feb. 6 and left after a day, and that the incident is being investigated. It didn’t elaborate. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Feb. 8 that Wang left the consulate on his own volition, responding to speculation that he asked for refuge in the diplomatic post.
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 the Feb. 8 announcement that he was undergoing treatment for stress, 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.”
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai called Wang’s visit a “very isolated case” that was “resolved relatively smoothly.” U.S. rules prohibit diplomatic posts from offering asylum. Asylum seekers must apply inside the U.S. or at border posts.
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. On Feb 8, 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.”
Posts about Wang and discussions of Bo’s political future were widely available yesterday on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging service.
The official Xinhua News Agency published a story yesterday 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.
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.
Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Beijing, said in an e-mail yesterday 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 tomorrow.
Buangan would not comment on what Wang discussed at the meeting or respond to 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 yesterday.
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.
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe