Red flags over future of Chinese megacity’s departing Communist Party boss

Sun Zhengcai’s absence from a handover meeting could signal trouble for the Politburo member, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 3:13pm

Chongqing was again ­centre stage of national politics on Saturday with the city’s departing Communist Party boss unusually absent from the announcement of his ­replacement.

Analysts and sources said Sun Zhengcai’s absence from the handover meeting could be a sign that he was in hot water.

They also said the appointment of his replacement, Guizhou party boss Chen Miner, could pave the way for his promotion at the national party congress later this year.

Sun and Chen are among the youngest provincial party chiefs and both had been seen as rising stars.

But in a glaring departure from party protocol, Sun was absent from an event to announce Chen’s appointment. State media also gave no indication of what Sun’s next job might be.

Chongqing’s top post is key because its party boss has a seat at heart of the decision making process, the 25-member Politburo.

Rising star Sun Zhengcai named as party chief of Chongqing

Regarded by some as a protégé of former premier Wen Jiabao, Sun is already a Politburo member and had been seen as a front runner for a place on its Standing Committee at the upcoming 19th national congress.

Chen is a trusted associate of President Xi Jinping, serving as his propaganda chief when Xi was the boss of Zhejiang province. Chen is one of the 205 members of the party’s Central Committee.

Chen Daoyin, a political scientist with the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Sun could be in trouble because his work was not mentioned at all in ­relation to the Chongqing handover meeting.

“In general, handover meetings summarise the predecessor’s work and the successor expresses his gratitude to the predecessor,” Chen Daoyin said.

“It is basic etiquette in Chinese officialdom.”

Sun also did not appear in state television’s prime-time news reports on the two-day National Financial Work Conference in Beijing, which ended on Saturday. The meeting was attended by all Politburo members except for Sun and two others who were on overseas trips.

Chongqing still grappling with ‘pernicious legacy’ of Bo Xilai

Chongqing is no stranger to political drama. Bo Xilai, its former party boss, is serving a life sentence for corruption, and his wife Gu Kailai was convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The city’s ­former police chief Wang Lijun, who was embroiled in Bo and Gu activities, once sought temporary refuge at the US consulate in ­nearby Chengdu.

Wang was replaced as police chief by He Ting, only for He to also come under investigation.

A source close to Chongqing police said numerous officials had been implicated in He’s downfall.

Another source close to the Chongqing government said Sun and He had known each other since they attended the same school in Rongcheng county, Shandong province.

In February, the party’s top corruption watchdog said Chongqing had yet to rid itself of Bo and Wang’s “pernicious ­legacy”.

End of an era for mayor who survived Bo Xilai scandal and oversaw Chongqing’s economic boom

Chen Daoyin said He Ting’s removal and the watchdog’s criticism cast a shadow over Sun’s ­career.

But Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said that criticism alone was unlikely to end Sun’s career.

“He might be given a lightweight post, but there is no reason to take him down as he has not made any big mistakes yet,” Zhang said, adding that any decision would also have to consider “saving face for Wen Jiabao”.

At the Saturday gathering of senior Chongqing officials, Chen Miner said the city’s cadres should make“safeguarding General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core status” in the party as their top political duty, according to Chongqing official media.

State-run Xinhua reported that Guizhou governor Sun Zhigang would succeed Chen as provincial party chief.