China's Police Chief Mystery
Image Credit: Moniquz

China's Police Chief Mystery


The Chinese rumor mill has been in overdrive since Tuesday, when Chongqing deputy mayor and chief of police Wang Lijun was apparently taken into custody after spending the night in the American consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu. A close ally of Chongqing’s party chief, the celebrity politician Bo Xilai, Wang’s case throws sudden doubt on Bo’s efforts to join the top-ranking Politburo standing committee, and suggests that powerful forces may be gunning for the Chongqing leader.

Wang’s apparent attempt to defect is presumed to have followed a warning that he was due to be arrested (although there are other, if rather fanciful, theories – see below).

I spoke today to Richard McGregor, a former Financial Times Beijing bureau chief and author of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers – required reading for anyone trying to understand the Chinese Communist Party.  McGregor says that Wang’s arrest is a crisis for Bo’s remarkably public campaign for promotion: “It seemed like a sure thing til last week. Normally you’d expect a very public campaign to backfire, but out of the nine members of the standing committee, about six have been to Chongqing and, by their presence, consecrated his campaign.” 

Some have seen the scandal as natural comeuppance for Bo’s unprecedented appeal for popular support – the Chinese leadership values consensus highly, and is wary of politicians building independent bases of support.

The scandal has come at a seriously inopportune time for Bo, McGregor says, as negotiations begin in earnest over the October leadership transition. “It’s right now that real bargaining has started for places on the standing committee, and this is the time the party works as a political machine,” he says. “If you embarrass the system, you become very vulnerable.”

If Wang’s arrest wasn’t ordered by Bo himself, McGregor says, it almost certainly came from the top: “In just about any corruption scandal in China, if somebody big topples over, it’s as much political as it is the result of forensic investigation. Bo hasn’t toppled over yet, but it’s possible that this is the start.” 

But, McGregor adds, it does seem like Bo may have won the first round of this fight – he has continued his busy schedule of public appearances in Chongqing and neighboring Yunnan Province, where his speeches have included pointed (if ironic) criticism of party members more interested in inflating their own accomplishments than working on behalf of the masses – an apparent attempt to distance himself from Wang.

It’s not even known for certain that Wang did try to defect to the United States – the U.S. State Department has so far said only that he spent about 24 hours in the consulate and “left of his own volition.” It’s widely believed that Wang is in the custody of the State Security office in Beijing, but the strongest evidence for this theory seems to be a document circulating online that claims to be a copy of ticket stubs showing he flew to Beijing with State Security Vice Minister Qiu Jin. The State Security Bureau, McGregor pointed out, is headed by Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, a conservative leader who belongs to the prime target audience for Bo's high-profile “Red campaigns” in Chongqing.

So who took Wang down?  So far, there’s no hard evidence, and rumors have pointed to everyone from President Hu Jintao to Bo Xilai’s wife. But we can be sure it was a political decision made at a high level, McGregor says, as China’s anti-corruption agency is a Communist Party body that requires permission from an official’s superior before beginning an investigation – or someone higher up the chain.

February 17, 2012 at 20:11

Believing in china’s “peaceful rise” is like having no brains.

February 14, 2012 at 10:52


“Believing American is in the business of democracy and human rights is a fallacy” is a conclusion of history facts.

Haha – we’ve all seen how good you are at interpreting facts

John Chan
February 14, 2012 at 05:48

Harper finally comes around to view China with proper perspective. Lagging behind a hard line conservative and insisting on distorted neocon point of view is harmful to the world peace and prosperity.

John Chan
February 14, 2012 at 05:38

“Believing American is in the business of democracy and human rights is a fallacy” is a conclusion of history facts.

“Believing in china’s ‘peaceful rise’ is like having no brains.” is a baseless conjecture with ill intent.

February 14, 2012 at 02:45

@John Chan: Believing in china’s “peaceful rise” is like having no brains.

John Chan
February 14, 2012 at 02:41

Wang’s episode should be an opportunity for Chinese to do some deep soul searching, condemning Wang is an easy way out of the scandal; Chinese need to ask the question, why did Wang not seek redress of his grievance through China’s judicial system or public media instead of seeking refuge from a predatory imperialist that seeks to destroy his nation? To provide venues that can address unfairness publicly will the biggest challenge to China before it can achieve its greatness on world scale.

John Chan
February 13, 2012 at 23:11

Believing American is in the business of democracy and human rights is a fallacy.

Fu Man-chu : A Traitor Uncovered?
February 13, 2012 at 22:25

Why to the American Consulate and not other country’s? I question Wang’s choice. Seems to me he has too close a connection with the Americans and may be in their pay or obligated to Washington one way or another. Rather than gaining PR points to avoid incarceration by the Chinese government, I would say, his action reflect more of one betraying his own country and loyalty to a foreign government. A traitor and a boot-licking American agent whose cover has been blown?

Leonard R.
February 13, 2012 at 12:28

That sounds very plausible. But it sure does not make the US look good to potential
PRC defectors. Some of them might actually have something to offer.

It sets a very bad precedent IMO.

February 13, 2012 at 11:56

The threat to family is too great. Better to let yourself die than also destroy your family.

February 13, 2012 at 11:55

One is surprised at your view of muck raking by the author. Surely, by alluding to innuendo a most important point is made: there is no truth, no transparency, or vehicle for knowledge to determine what happens to the people’s representatives where this so-called People’s Democracy is anything but.

February 13, 2012 at 09:31

I think he made an attempt to save his own skin by trying to get asylum.

The US picked his brains for a while – found out that he didn’t know anything that special on the inner sanctum of the CCP bigwigs

So, didn’t want to ruin Xi Jinping’s trip to the States on a diplomatic incident over this and asked him to leave, “of his own volition” of course

And that’s “Number WANG”

February 13, 2012 at 09:26

杀鸡鸡鸡 – or Kill the chicken to scare the monkey

February 12, 2012 at 16:11

we chinese have long resigned to the truism that nobody wades through the dirty water of politics without getting their feet wet. so whether his arrest is politically motivated or otherwise can only be speculated on since there is no credible source of infos that would shed sufficient light on the mystery. so as long as we masses can live in peace and make our ends meet, we dont give a rat’s ass about why these corrupted officials fell victim to some hideous and vicious political schemes.
what baffles me though is author’s motive in writing about vaious theories circulating on line and yet admitting that these r just theories without any concret evdence to back them up. he whets audience’s appetite with his assertion that we should keep a close eye on next event that unfolds. if he is sincere, he would be much more useful in turning people out in the upcoming election of us where people have been sick of all these pyschodrama, dirt-flingling tactics.

sometimes things are better being left unkown and i am certain whoever is gonna fall next or whatever explosive news hit the tv in the leadup to the transition wont unravel the stability and growth of chinese society. those us a..h..s can be sure of that.

February 12, 2012 at 15:53

There is a saying in Chinese which roughly translated says:

If I want to shoot you I shoot your chicken first!

February 12, 2012 at 15:19

I believe that it has been a conspiracy against Bo Xilai.

I do not believe that this will give a sign of where China is headed.

So long as the international situation remains,China maintains a collective leadership style and the country is showing GDP growth,China will continuoe in the current path.

Leonard R.
February 12, 2012 at 14:53

This is a very strange story.

He spent 24 hours inside the US Consulate?
Then why did he leave “on his own volition”?

Why was he there and why did he leave? Those are the first two questions I have.

Did he make a claim for asylum? If not, what was he doing inside the US Consulate for
24 hours?

If he made a claim for asylum? Was it denied?

Was some kind of deal made between the US and the PRC?

Nobody looks good in this mess. The PRC rarely looks good anymore.
But the US behavior here is hard to understand also.

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