Bo conspicuous by his absence in media reports
None of the major newspapers in Chongqing ran a picture of the municipality's party chief, Bo Xilai, with their front-page coverage yesterday of his meeting with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The omission raised further questions about Bo's political career, which was dealt a blow last week after the attempted defection of his right-hand man.
The banquet Bo threw for Harper on Saturday, as well as a meeting between the two, was the lead story for nearly all newspapers in the southwestern municipality yesterday.
But instead of featuring a typical picture of Bo and Harper together, the newspapers opted to run just a picture of Harper and his wife hugging a panda that will be sent to Canada or one of the panda alone.
A 1,500-word piece about Harper's visit in the Chongqing Daily, the municipality's party mouthpiece, did not mention Bo, although it gave other details of Harper's trip, ranging from visiting the pandas to trying to boost economic co-operation between Chongqing and Canada.
Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based political analyst, said the official Chongqing media's omission of Bo might reflect certain instructions from the central leadership about limiting publicity about him in the media after a deputy mayor, Wang Lijun, apparently sought help from the US consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan, last week.
'The Wang Lijun incident has not only made Bo lose face himself, but has also brought shame to the ruling Communist Party. The central government would certainly want to make some restrictions on media reports about Bo,' Chen said.
The absence of Bo's image from local media in his power base set the mainland's ever-vigilant microbloggers abuzz with speculation that Bo could be on his way out of the public limelight for good, at least in an official capacity.
Immediately after the Wang Lijun saga broke, Bo was seen making an inspection trip to Yunnan province on Wednesday and Thursday, where he visited a military unit that had been set up by his late father, the communist revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo .
The timing of Bo Xilai's visit to the 14th PLA Group Army in Kunming, Yunnan's capital city, has raised a few eyebrows, with some political watchers suggesting that he intended to use the trip to send a subtle message that he still has the backing of the military.
'It was a bit unusual for Bo to pay such an eye-catching visit to the army unit that was founded by his late father, Bo Yibo,' said a police source in Chongqing who declined to be identified.
Rumours circulating in Chongqing indicate that any media coverage about Bo must first be vetted and approved by the central propaganda authorities.