Triad-smashing Chongqing boss put on the spot
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
Whether he likes it or not, Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai is in the spotlight during the parliamentary session in Beijing.
Thanks to his crackdown on triads, Bo, as the son of one of the party 'immortals', Bo Yibo, got great attention on the sidelines of the National People's Congress. Some 200 reporters flocked to the Great Hall of the People for the rare chance to get a close look at the rising political star.
Well-prepared, if 40 minutes late, Bo was all smiles answering questions on topics ranging from snaring gang bosses and corrupt officials to his campaign to promote revolutionary culture, to lifting the impoverished Three Gorges areas, and even one about his private life.
But the media-savvy Politburo member, who had promised to take every possible question, was obviously annoyed when it was suggested he had an ulterior motive behind the blitz on triads, which has generated intense speculation in Beijing.
'Are you paving your way to the Politburo Standing Committee with the anti-triad crackdown?' asked a Taiwanese reporter. 'Are you not worried about stealing the show and outshining your bosses?'
That question was on many people's minds, and breaths were held. But after an unusual pause, he was straight-faced and appeared offended. 'We are here to discuss the government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday, and our question and answer session is broadcast live on the People's Daily website,' he said. 'Let's not change the topic. I try to treat the media nicely and I hope the media can kindly return the favour.'
His outburst apparently disappointed many, with Taiwanese reporters leaving minutes later.
Organisers and Bo's staff were embarrassed by the question, arguing in private who should be responsible for it. They described it as humiliating. The question did not make it into the transcript of the event on the website of the Communist Party mouthpiece.
Bo also made a vigorous defence of the crackdown, which many analysts believe was part of a calculated move to seek media exposure and gain political capital for promotion at the expense of the rule of law.
He insisted the crackdown was being carried out strictly according to law and said the anti-triad movement had boosted the image of the government and created a more favourable environment for economic development and the rule of law.
More than 3,300 people have been arrested for gang-related crimes and 63 criminal syndicates have been hit. Many senior law enforcement officials accused of providing protection for triads are among the detainees.
'Cracking down on triads is aimed at building a safe Chongqing and pushing ahead with the rule of law,' Bo said.
'What we have done is seek justice for those killed in over 500 murder cases in the past decade.'
The crackdown was inevitable because people had so many complaints and grievances. 'Frankly, I was surprised by the extent of the problems, which went far beyond my expectations,' he said.
Bo vowed the crackdown would continue as long as the other 500 to 600 people suspected of gang-related crimes were still at large.
For the first time, he rejected criticism of the sentence passed on Beijing-based lawyer Li Zhuang , widely believed by fellow lawyers to have been wronged in being convicted of fabricating evidence in the trial of a Chongqing gangster.
Li was given an 18-month jail sentence. Bo said the verdict was beyond argument.
'We have been welcoming lawyers from across the country, but it does not mean we should sit idle when lawyers are doing wrong things,' he said angrily. 'If so, are we to allow anarchism?'
He described those critical of the case as 'only a handful of people', with 'ulterior motives'.
Many reporters were also keen to ask about his relations with his predecessor in Chongqing, Wang Yang , now the Guangdong party chief, who is seen as one of Bo's key rivals in the next reshuffle.
But Bo dodged the question, saying he wanted to learn from Guangdong in boosting the economy.
Bo also spoke fondly of his second wife, Gu Kailai, who was a renowned lawyer in the 1990s. 'My wife has helped me a lot,' he said.