Former Triad Cop 'On Rest Leave'

The news prompts speculation that he is under investigation by China's Communist Party.

2012.02.08
boxilai-305.jpg Bo Xilai looks on during a meeting at the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 6, 2010.
AFP

A former gang-busting police chief with strong political ties to an up-and-coming ruling Chinese Communist Party official in southwestern city of Chongqing took an abrupt "leave of absence" Wednesday amid rumors that he may seek political asylum in the United States.

China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday it had "no information" about the sudden recuperation leave taken by vice mayor and former police chief of Chongqing Wang Lijun, who is deputy to the city's Communist Party chief Bo Xilai.

Wang was removed from his key posts last week, prompting speculation he may be under investigation by the ruling Communist Party.

Chongqing's provincial-ranking government said in a posting on its official microblog account on Wednesday that Wang, 52, was on sick leave, sparking widespread speculation of a political purge ahead of a key leadership transition this year.

"Due to long-term overwork, a high level of mental stress and physical exhaustion, vice-mayor Wang Lijun is currently receiving vacation-style treatment following approval," the post said.

Wang is well-known for leading as a formidable opponent of organized crime, heading a graft crackdown that led to scores of senior officials being jailed in the city of 30 million people.

He has now been reassigned to education, environmental protection and other areas, official media reported.

Request for asylum?

In a further twist, police surrounded the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu, sparking speculation that Wang had made an asylum bid there to escape political retribution.

Calls to the U.S. consulate spokesperson's office and to Wang's own office went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said he was "not in a position to comment regarding reported requests for asylum."

"I can tell you there was no threat to the [Chengdu] consulate yesterday, and the U.S. government did not request increased security around the compound," Buangan told Reuters.

However, an employee at a travel agency opposite the consulate surnamed Li said the streets around the building were full of police when she left work on Tuesday evening.

"The scene last night was pretty similar to when U.S. Vice-President [Joe Biden] visited here," Li said. "In both cases they stopped traffic from passing through, and they wouldn't let pedestrians walk past."

"Mostly leaders visit in the middle of the day, and I was thinking last night, are they visiting so late?"

"Everyone was watching what was going on, and no one really knew what was happening," she said. "There were at least 100 police at the scene."

Online posts reported that some of the police outside the consulate were armed, while Chengdu's entire second ring road was brought under the control of traffic police.

A resident of Chengdu surnamed Wang said she had also seen large numbers of police outside the consulate.

"All I could see was that there were police there," she said. "I couldn't see anything else."

Information scant


China's Internet authorities have censored microblog postings and searches using both Wang and Bo's names, but keyword searches for leaders' names are routinely filtered.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters he had "no information" about Wang.

"You will have to look at the Chongqing government statement," Liu told a regular news briefing in Beijing. "I have no information to give you."

The Chongqing announcement of "vacation-style treatment" prompted widespread scorn and speculation among Chinese netizens.

"'Vacation-style treatment' is a new word," wrote user @wangwenxue. "Does that mean something out of the ordinary has befallen Wang?"

A Chongqing-based government official who asked to remain anonymous said he believed "something had happened" to Wang.

"When I read in the newspapers that he is no longer the police chief, I thought something must have gone wrong for him," the official said.

"Even if he did try to defect, I guess that they wouldn't dare to take him because he's not a pro-democracy activist or a Falun Gong practitioner or a prisoner of conscience," he said.

Political patronage

Beijing-based journalist Fang Ping, who frequently covers Chongqing stories, said it was highly unusual that the authorities had released no photographs of Wang.

"Normally they will make sure that photographs are seen of the person in a public place, anywhere, really, just so people know that they're all right," Fang said.

"They have always done it this way in the past, only this time, they're not doing that."

He said the rumors surrounding Wang had multiplied because of his close association with Bo, the "princeling" son of a revolutionary Party founder, who is seeking promotion to the highest echelons of leadership in a crucial transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.

"It's too early to say right now how much impact this will have on Bo's career," Fang said.

"This is a man who was promoted by Bo, and he has suddenly been relieved of his posts," he said. "Only Bo would be in a position to get rid of him."

Wang was brought in by Chongqing Party secretary Bo, the son of Party elder Bo Yibo, to spearhead his campaign against organized crime.

Bo, known for his charismatic leadership style, rose to prominence as mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian, and later became associated with the campaign to bring back revolutionary songs and Mao-era socialist morality to Chongqing.

Wang's removal and the surrounding speculation comes ahead of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States next week on a trip that will underscore his virtual certainty of succeeding Hu Jintao as top leader from late 2012.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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COMMENTS

Anonymous
Feb 08, 2012 07:44 AM

As usual, the Party-state is being very opaque about one of its officials taken into custody. Wang Lijun, as one of Bo Xilai's top lieutenants, was well aware of corrupt practices associated with Bo's wife and son. This may have something to do with the rift that appeared between Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun.