The future of Chongqing's mayor appears to be up in the air in the wake of political turmoil in the southwestern municipality last week.
Huang Qifan, a close ally of the municipality's party boss, Bo Xilai, faces uncertain career prospects after reportedly being summoned to Beijing to explain why he led a convoy of armed police and police vehicles to besiege the US consulate in Chengdu on Tuesday in apparent pursuit of his deputy mayor, Wang Lijun, who used to be Bo's right-hand man.
Three separate sources in Chongqing confirmed that Huang took the armed police 300 kilometres from Chongqing to the consulate area of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, in pursuit of Wang, who requested a meeting with US diplomats and remained holed up in the consulate for a day.
The sources, who declined to be identified, said Huang was summoned to Beijing on Friday. Whom Huang met remains unclear, though speculation has been rife that he was asked by central authorities to explain why he led the police to besiege the US diplomatic unit, and why the municipal government made the decision to place Wang under what it said via microblog was 'vacation-style treatment' - a phrase that has since been widely commented on by mainland web users.
The dramatic political storm looks set to cast a pall over Huang's otherwise bright political future, analysts said, even though he might have been simply taking orders from his boss, Bo. Huang, 59, has been widely considered a rising political star, and one likely to be promoted after the Communist Party's leadership reshuffle this autumn.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a Hong Kong-based China watcher, speculated that Huang's political prospects might be less up to him at this point and more the result of 'bargaining between Bo and top leaders in Beijing'. 'If Bo agrees to make some compromises in the power struggle, I believe Huang will have the chance to get promoted, too,' Lau said.
'If not, Huang's future, along with Bo's, will become bleak.
'But I am convinced that Bo will make some concessions.'
Until last week, Bo had long been tipped as a strong contender for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee - where China's power is concentrated - in the leadership reshuffle at the 18th party congress this autumn. Political pundits have said that if that is the case, Huang, with his widely hailed tenure in Chongqing, would have a strong chance of taking over as municipal party chief.
Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based independent political analyst, said Huang had 'a good chance of being party secretary of a big province this year'. 'However, he may fail to secure such a top party post if he went to Chengdu to get Wang.'
Huang became acting mayor in 2009 and was deputy mayor of the municipality between 2001 and 2009. A former secretary of Huang Ju, late member of the party's Politburo Standing Committee, Huang Qifan was considered a competent technocrat specialising in finance and economics. Having spearheaded one of the largest build-ups of subsidised housing in China, he is also one of the country's best known voices on property market issues.
Under his economic leadership, Chongqing has seen annual double-digit economic growth for the past few years and even shared the top national spot with Tianjin last year with a growth rate of 16.4 per cent. Huang has long been tipped to become the party boss of either Sichuan or Chongqing, and some analysts have even suggested that he could become a member of the party's Politburo after the 18th party congress, given his competitive age and proven capability, particularly if Bo rises to become a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
However, the events over the past week appear to have left Huang Qifan with a slimmer chance of securing further elevation, even if he was merely following Bo's orders.