U.S. says Bo's ally did go to consulate
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Choi Chi-yuk in Chongqing
Washington and Beijing confirmed yesterday that the former right-hand man of Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai visited the US consulate in Chengdu on Monday.
The visit by Chongqing Vice-Mayor Wang Lijun and reports of his subsequent transfer to Beijing by the Communist Party's discipline watchdog have fuelled speculation about a behind-the-scenes power struggle in the run-up to a leadership reshuffle expected later this year.
Both sides declined to release details of the meeting, obviously non-diplomatic in nature, between US diplomats and Wang, who was the municipality's police chief until last week.
They also refused to comment further on Wang's rumoured bid to seek US asylum. In a statement issued late last night, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing confirmed that Wang had visited the US consulate.
'Vice-Mayor Wang entered the US Consulate General on February 6, stayed there for one day and left. The [Chinese] authorities are investigating the case,' the statement said.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that Wang had requested and attended a meeting at the consulate, but stressed that the famed triad-buster chose to leave afterwards.
'The meeting was scheduled. Our folks met with him,' she said. 'He did visit the consulate and he later left the consulate of his own volition.'
In Beijing, Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said Wang's visit to the consulate was an 'isolated incident' and would not affect a visit by Vice-President Xi Jinping to America next week.
'I said that this issue was resolved and was resolved quite smoothly,' Cui said at a news briefing in Beijing ahead of the trip by Xi, President Hu Jintao's heir apparent.
Chongqing's government press office said Wang, previously a close ally of the maverick Chongqing party chief, was on 'stress leave'.
But it is believed he was taken away by the party's top disciplinary body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, for an unspecified investigation.
Wang's detention, if confirmed, is widely believed to have dealt a serious blow to Bo's political future.
He had his eye on a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top echelon. The affair has also made the leadership line-up to be decided at a party congress this autumn more uncertain.
Chongqing residents said yesterday they had mixed feelings about Wang. 'Most residents agree that law and order has improved under Wang and we feel a lot safer,' one man said.
'But as a law graduate, I am also worried about the abuse of legal procedures in the anti-triad crackdown.'
The prevailing culture of government secrecy has fanned speculation about who is behind Wang's downfall and why, with some speculating that it was engineered by Bo.
Veteran China observer Professor Rodick MacFarquhar, from Harvard University, said Bo may have fallen out with Wang.
'Bo may have decided that Wang's controversial police tactics and perhaps his personal behaviour were counter-productive for his leadership ambitions and decided to drop him for fear Wang would contaminate Bo himself,' he said.
Wang was stripped of his police duties last week and reassigned to a portfolio covering education and the environment. It was seen as part of an attempt by Bo to sideline Wang, who spearheaded his controversial crackdown on organised crime.
Dai Qing, a mainland writer and journalist, said she believed Wang's downfall - an apparent attempt to target Bo - was a joint political power play by Hu and former National People's Congress chairman Qiao Shi, as some other mainland intellectuals have speculated on the internet.
The party's disciplinary chief, He Guoqiang, the southwestern municipality's party boss in the early 2000s, is also rumoured to back the move against Bo.
Dai said: 'Qiao represents a group of party elders and retired officials for whom the last thing they want is the revival of Maoist leftists and even a relapse into chaos similar to the Cultural Revolution.'