Sun Zhengcai

Can Chongqing’s new police chief break the curse of the Chinese megacity?

Previous incumbents have been catalytic in the fall of two party chiefs, but latest top cop will be keen to avoid a similar fate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 11:32pm

Chongqing has appointed a new police chief, filling a hot seat in the Chinese megacity that over the past five years has been inextricably linked to the demise of not one but two of its former party bosses.

Deng Huilin, 51, former deputy police chief of Hubei province and an ex-general office director at the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, will take up the job, the Jiulongpo district government said in a statement released on Friday.

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He will work under Chen Miner – a trusted protégé of President Xi Jinping – who took over as Chongqing party boss from Sun Zhengcai. Sun was last week put under investigation for “serious party discipline violations”, the common euphemism for corruption.

According to a report by The Beijing News, until July 2015 Deng had spent most of his career in Hubei, though little is known about what he did between then and Friday’s statement.

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There appears to be no clear crossover in the lives or career paths of Deng and Chen, which might well help them both avoid following in the footsteps of their doomed predecessors.

In 2012, princeling Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was a front runner to join China’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. His dream ended, however, when he was betrayed by his long time aide and Chongqing’s then top cop, Wang Lijun.

Wang made international headlines after he took refuge in a US consulate in the neighbouring city of Chengdu in Sichuan, days after being sacked, and slapped, by Bo.

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His defection sparked China’s biggest political scandal in decades and resulted in a life sentence for Bo, as well as for his wife Gu Kailai. She was jailed for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Five years after Bo’s fall from grace, 53-year-old Sun, who was also seen as a strong contender for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, is now under investigation after being sacked as Chongqing party boss on July 15.

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No details of the probe have been released, but sources told the South China Morning Post that Sun was likely implicated by his friend and former top cop He Ting.

The sources said that Sun and He had been friends since their school days in Rongcheng, in eastern China’s Shandong province. Just a month before Sun’s abrupt dismissal, He, who was Wang’s immediate successor, was also mysteriously removed from his post.

The government has yet to say where He is now, but the veteran detective, 55, is widely believed to be under internal investigation, the sources said.

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“Just like what happened five years ago, when Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai was removed soon after his police chief, Wang Lijun, so Sun has been deposed after the dismissal of his top cop, He,” said a source close to the Chongqing government, who declined to be named.

“One of the allegations pitched against Sun is that when he was at the helm, he protected his old schoolmate from investigation,” the person said, adding that He had been a protégé of disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

The source added that he didn’t believe Sun himself had taken bribes during his time as Chongqing party boss, Jilin provincial party boss or agricultural minister.

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A second source, close to Chongqing police, agreed, saying Sun was likely implicated during the investigation into He, who was promoted by Zhou – a member of the Politburo Standing Committee from 2007 to 2012 – as a reward for his loyalty.

President Xi said in a keynote speech to party leaders in October that Zhou, Bo, former Central Military Commission vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, as well as disgraced presidential aide Ling Jihua had “all engaged in political conspiracy activities”.

In February, Sun was criticised by anti-corruption watchdog inspectors for failing to root out Bo’s “pernicious legacy”.

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“The remnants of [that] same clique could be seen as Bo’s legacy to a certain extent,” the police source said.

The government source added that Sun’s downfall might also be linked to his wife Hu Ying’s close ties with Ling’s wife Gu Liping.

Additional reporting by Viola Zhou