The U.K. asked China to investigate the November death of a British citizen in Chongqing, the southern city that was run by Politburo member Bo Xilai until his ouster earlier this month.
Britain’s embassy in Beijing asked China’s government earlier this year for a probe of Neil Heywood’s death after first being told he died from drinking too much alcohol, John Gallagher, a spokesman for the embassy, said today by phone. He said that “sometime after the death there were rumors and suspicions, and we were told of these suspicions, and once those rumors became more numerous,” the inquiry was requested.
News of the request comes amid speculation over the Communist Party’s reasons for removing Bo from his post in Chongqing, one of the largest Chinese metropolitan regions. The party is seeking to engineer a stable succession of national leadership as Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao are scheduled to retire in the coming year.
“Right now the drama is just getting started,” said Huang Jing, a professor focusing on Chinese politics at Singapore National University. He said the allegations surrounding Bo may be part of a bigger leadership split within the Communist Party as it starts the power handover.
Bo was ousted a day after Premier Wen Jiabao warned of the dangers of returning to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. That contrasted with Bo’s campaign to revive songs and slogans from China’s Maoist past.
Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief, brought evidence to Bo suggesting that Heywood was poisoned, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. Wang later spent a night at a U.S. consulate and is now subject of a government investigation.
Heywood had business links with Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the case it didn’t identify. The newspaper said Heywood apparently didn’t drink alcohol.
Bo, 62, remains a member of the Politburo and was until recently considered a candidate for inclusion in the Politburo Standing Committee, the group that exercises supreme power in China. Bo was removed as Chongqing Communist Party secretary on March 15.
Gallagher didn’t specify whether the U.K. request was made before or after Wang’s Feb. 6-7 stay at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. He said China agreed to look into the case.
Britain’s Chongqing consulate was informed of Heywood’s death in November, and provided consular services for his family, Gallagher said.
Asked for comment at a briefing today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he was not aware of the situation surrounding Heywood.