Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai and his predecessor, Guangdong party boss Wang Yang , finally stood side by side before the press yesterday, in a meeting much anticipated since Bo launched a massive crackdown on triads in Chongqing.
The two rising political stars presided at a signing ceremony for trade agreements worth 50 billion yuan (HK$56.65 billion) in Chongqing yesterday. Officially, Wang is leading a 1,000-strong delegation to forge business co-operation between the inland municipality and the coastal province.
But analysts believed the meeting sent an important political message - it is a show of unity likely ordered by the central leadership aimed at quashing speculation about a rivalry between them. Wang and Bo, both Politburo members and candidates for its elite Standing Committee in the next Party Congress, in 2012, are seen as competitors jockeying for the coveted seats in the committee.
Bo, a former commerce minister, took over from Wang as Chongqing Communist Party chief in December 2007. He has since acquired a reputation for tough crackdowns on crime and corruption - as well as his ability to draw much-needed investment for the municipality.
Since he arrived in Chongqing, Bo's heavy-handed crackdowns on triads have brought down dozens of senior officials, including Wen Qiang , former justice bureau director and former deputy police chief, who had worked for Wang. Observers say this has increased Bo's political capital for further promotion, but has also embarrassed his predecessor.
Bo, a media-savvy politician, had diplomatically said in public that Chongqing had much to learn from Guangdong on crime busting, but speculation is rife about a rivalry between him and Wang. Analysts said the trip was probably ordered by the central leadership to quash such speculation.
Independent analyst Chen Ziming said: 'This did not come from them [Wang and Bo]. It was likely from the Politburo, to dispel public speculation.'
The central leadership is wary that the two men are jockeying for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, and is probably keen to see their competition end as soon as possible, Chen said. 'Whereas Deng Xiaoping would have favoured competition to see who would outperform, the current government's main priority is stability, so they have been told to bring this to a halt,' he said.
Questions have been raised as to why Bo's predecessors, including Wang, did not crack down on Chongqing's powerful crime bosses. But Zhang Lifan , a former Chinese Academy of Social Sciences historian, agreed with Chen. He said Bo, who comes from a powerful clique known as the 'princelings', has stronger political capital than Wang to get tough on local gangs. His father, Bo Yibo , was a revered, veteran communist who helped found the People's Republic.
When Wang arrived on Thursday, Chongqing media gave Bo credit for using his quick wit to secure the visit. A report posted on cqnews.net, a news portal under the Chongqing government, said Wang decided to visit after Bo jokingly used an ancient Chinese idiom hinting Wang was too happy in Guangdong, and was unwilling to revisit Chongqing, when they met each other at the National People's Congress in March.
Wang's visit coincides with the resignation of Wang Hongju , a former Chongqing mayor who worked under him. Wang Hongju bade farewell to the municipality's People's Congress on Thursday.