As China's latest political drama continues to unfold, all eyes will be on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's scheduled meeting today with Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, whose right-hand man's disappearance this week has fuelled reports of a high-level power struggle.
Harper is on a five-day visit to China and has met President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. He visited Bo's rival, Guangdong Communist Party chief Wang Yang, yesterday.
He is due to arrive in Chongqing today and is expected to meet Bo tonight before leaving China.
Analysts say Bo, a rising star tipped to join the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in a leadership reshuffle this autumn, faces an uncertain future. The downfall of his former ally, Chongqing vice-mayor Wang Lijun , has dealt a heavy blow to his hopes of ascending to the top leadership.
Chongqing's government says Wang, formerly the municipality's police chief, is on 'stress leave'. The US State Department and Beijing have both confirmed he went to the US consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan, on Monday. Sources say Wang has since been taken to Beijing by the Communist Party's disciplinary watchdog.
Analysts says Harper's visits to Guangzhou and Chongqing, the power bases of China's most colourful political figures, Wang Yang and Bo, could not have come at a more embarrassing time.
'We have to see whether Bo will actually meet him [Harper] and what he is going to say - and, of course, the show must go on,' said Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based independent political analyst.
Xinhua carried an English-language report yesterday saying that Chongqing was busy preparing for Harper's visit. It said Harper was scheduled to meet the municipality's 'top officials', but stopped short of mentioning Bo's name.
While mainland cyberspace was abuzz with reports and rumours about Wang Lijun's visit to the consulate in Chengdu, Bo was in Yunnan on Wednesday and Thursday on what appears to be a 'business as usual' trip.
The official Yunnan Daily carried a front page report yesterday about Bo's visit to a Kunming park, where he fed seagulls and praised Yunnan's conservation efforts.
While this may show that Bo appears unfazed by his one-time ally's troubles, analysts point to the conspicuous absence of a similar story in the official Chongqing Daily yesterday, although it printed Bo's calligraphy on its front page this week. Both newspapers are directly controlled by the local Communist Party.
'I believe this indicates that the fire has now spread to Bo Xilai,' Chen said. 'Wang's troubles are not just his own problem, it's related to the whole of the Chongqing clique - it's the interaction between Wang and Bo that's made such a drama.'
However, Chongqing TV led its news last night with a lengthy report of Bo's trip to Kunming.
Meanwhile, China News Service reported that Wang Yang, Bo's political enemy, chaired a teleconference this week vowing to crack down on crime gangs.
'Wang is using this opportunity to show that he is also capable of busting organised crime ... what you're good at, I can do it just as well,' said Chen.
Bo made a name for himself for his iron-fisted approach to organised crime - which had been seen as increasing his chances of promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee.
Jean-Philippe Beja, a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po in Paris, said these were all signs of fierce jockeying for power at high levels ahead of the leadership change expected at the 18th party congress this autumn.
'These are not good omens for Bo Xilai [in his bid] to enter the Standing Committee, and this might be Wang Lijun's goal,' Beja said.
Wang may have taken the drastic step of seeking political asylum at the US consulate because he wanted to protect himself from Bo, who otherwise could have quietly arrested him, analysts say.
'It's a very dramatic and clever move and it obliges the central government to take a stance,' Beja said.
Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk in ChongqingTopics: Bo Xilai Bo Yibo Chongqing Chongqing Wang Hongju