China’s leadership succession might not be an exercise in democracy, but the system has demonstrated it can still be ruthless, with the firing of Bo Xilai as Communist Party chief of Chongqing in southwest China.
“Zhang Dejiang has been appointed Party chief of Chongqing, replacing Bo Xilai, according to a decision of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee announced Thursday,” the official Xinhua News Agency wrote in a brief note on its website.
This is remarkable news. Bo is about as close to a political rock star as China gets, and was seen as doing something quite unusual in China – effectively openly running for office (in this case a place on the Standing Committee of the Politburo). However, there has been much speculation about Bo’s prospects of reaching China’s top political body since Vice Mayor Wang Lijun, his longtime police chief and partner in Bo’s high-profile and populist campaign against corruption, went to ground last month “in the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu until he was coaxed out and placed under investigation.”
“Wang’s downfall undermines one of the core elements of Bo’s political narrative, the crackdown on organized crime that was Bo’s first signature initiative in Chongqing and which has won him widespread popularity in the city,” The Diplomat’s David Cohen wrote as the scandal unfolded last month. “Bo brought Wang with him from China’s northeast in order to head the campaign, and Wang also reportedly coordinated Bo’s public relations effort to commemorate the campaign with a five-volume history, a big budget film and a TV series. That said, Wang is a big personality – a minor celebrity in his own right – and he’s been rumored to be unhappy about being overshadowed by his boss, so there’s a chance the incident is simply a remarkably nasty falling out.”
According to Reuters: “Three sources with direct ties to Chongqing government officials said Bo's removal was announced at a meeting in the city. They all spoke on condition of anonymity to protect themselves and their sources.
“‘The fact that the Xinhua announcement did not stress that Bo will be placed in another post means that he's probably going to be put under investigation, and there won’t be any conclusion on his future until the end of that investigation,’ said one of the sources, a journalist with wide-ranging contacts among central officials.”
It’s unclear if Bo will lose his seat on the Politburo, as the Politburo itself will have to make that decision. In the meantime, Cohen will have more on what this could all mean tomorrow, and how serious the tensions at the top of the Communist Party might be.