Beijing - Ambitious Chinese Communist Party leadership
contender Bo Xilai has been toppled from his post as head of the inland city of
Chongqing, in a move risking a backlash from backers of his controversial
vision of socialist growth.
His abrupt downfall, announced on Thursday by the official
Xinhua news agency, exposes ideological divisions as a new generation prepares
to take power in China later this year, and may stir tensions between
supporters of his more traditional, state-dominated version of socialism, and
liberal critics, who saw him as a dangerous opportunist.
Bo was removed as party boss of Chongqing, a sprawling urban
region in the southwest that he turned into a bastion of Communist
revolutionary-inspired “red” culture and egalitarian growth, a day after being
rebuked by Premier Wen Jiabao in a news conference broadcast live across the
The telegenic Bo had been a strong contender for top
leadership, but his prospects came under speculation after Vice Mayor Wang
Lijun, previously his longtime police chief, went to ground in February in the
US consulate in nearby Chengdu until he was coaxed out and placed under
Xinhua said Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang will replace Bo, but
gave no further details. It also said Wang had been removed from his vice mayor
While Bo might be kept on in some role until the Communist
Party leadership succession this autumn, his hopes for promotion to a top job
were finished, said Chen Ziming, an independent scholar in Beijing who follows
“Now it looks like Wen Jiabao’s comments yesterday represented
the leadership’s collective view that Bo needed to go,” said Chen, referring to
the premier’s pointed rebuke of Bo.
“This will affect the leadership politics for the 18th
Congress, because this opens up new uncertainties about who is in contention,”
The 18th Party Congress late this year will see China’s
biggest leadership transition in nearly a decade, with Party Chief Hu Jintao
and other elders due to retire and hand power to a younger generation headed by
Vice President Xi Jinping.
Unlike Bo, Xi has shied away from the limelight and few of
his thoughts on policy have shone through a cautious public mask. Both are,
however, “princelings”, the term for children of current, retired or late
Bo’s fall from a confident defence of his policies at a news
conference last week to dismissal this week has come while central authorities
push forward with an investigation into Wang’s flight to the US mission, and
also after some central leaders, including the domestic security chief, Zhou
Yongkang, appeared to give Bo some public backing.
Bo has plenty of fans, attracted to the idea of a “Chongqing
model” of development that promises greater equality. Some were riled by his
“The removal of Bo Xilai is a real shock to me. We don’t
know whether it’s because of his personal errors or is an attack on the
Chongqing model,” said Sima Nan, a leftist writer and broadcaster in Beijing
who has praised Bo.
“If this amounts to a negation of the Chongqing model, then
I can’t agree with this decision.”
Wen added to the cloud hanging over Bo on Wednesday by
scolding Chongqing for the scandal and obliquely warning against nostalgia for
the Mao Zedong era.
“Well, the good news, I guess, is that the risks of leftism
and extremism in Chinese politics have just taken a nose dive,” said David
Zweig, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Hong Kong University of Science and
“I guess nobody really knew what he believed in, except
self-promotion, and now the self-promotion has done him in, which is good,”
Bo’s removal quickly became one of the most talked about
topics on China’s Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo, with the normal
censorship of discussion on top leaders strangely absent. Many people expressed
support for Bo.
“With the anti-mafia heroes Bo and Wang both gone, what are
we going to do now?” wrote Jin Zhiheng.
The man who takes over Chongqing from Bo, Vice Premier
Zhang, studied economics in North Korea and is a former party boss in the
export-dependent southern province of Guangdong. Unusually, he retains his vice
premiership despite his new position.
Three sources with direct ties to Chongqing government
officials said Bo’s removal was announced on Thursday morning at a meeting in
the city. They all spoke on condition of anonymity to protect themselves and
“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,” said one of the sources, a journalist with extensive contacts
among central officials.
Calls to two Chongqing city government officials for comment
were not returned.
Chongqing authorities said last month that Wang had taken
sick leave, sparking speculation he had been purged and had sought asylum at
the US Consulate in Chengdu.
Wang had been a key figure in a drive against organised
crime that was pursued by Bo, who had also encouraged a revival of socialist
culture from the time of Mao while seeking to transform Chongqing’s economy
into a model of more equal growth.
Xinhua did not mention whether Bo could lose his seat in the
Politburo, a central decision-making body that sits under the more powerful
Standing Committee. The Politburo itself would have to make that decision.
“This adjustment was made by the central government taking
into account the present situation and after careful consideration,” Xinhua
paraphrased Li Yuanchao, head of the party’s powerful personnel department, as