Chinese leadership contender dismissed


THE CHINESE capital was a hotbed of political intrigue yesterday after populist leadership contender Bo Xilai who had called for a “red revival” was sacked as head of the sprawling city-state of Chongqing.

The announcement was revealed as a terse, one-line communique on the Xinhua news agency. It quoted Li Yuanchao who is head of the ruling Communist Party’s powerful personnel department: “This adjustment was made by the central government taking into account the present situation and after careful consideration.”

Cyberspace traffic surged and millions of comments were posted on Weibo, Chinese version of the banned Twitter.

“Bo Xilai was welcomed by the Chongqing people. He did many good things for us. We like leaders who are good to us and we need an explanation about why he fell,” wrote one Chongqing web user, one of 1.7 million posts on the matter by the afternoon.

Later, searches for Mr Bo’s name on Weibo were blocked.

His sacking amounts to a serious power play as Mr Bo is the son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, one of the “eight immortals” who held high office. His name still strikes terror among high officialdom in Beijing.

Mr Bo had a high profile in China and his son, Bo Guagua, studied at Harrow, then Oxford, and is now at Harvard. He was loved by traditionalists who favour a return to the ideologically purer days of Chairman Mao Zedong.

The move against Mr Bo exposes an ideological rift at the top of the Communist Party. It could have an impact on the smooth transition of power from President Hu Jintao to the vice-president Xi Jinping this year.

Mr Xi is a also a “princeling”. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a revolutionary hero who was banished during the Cultural Revolution. But in contrast to Mr Bo, Mr Xi has kept a low profile and given little away on whether he is a reformist or a die-hard conservative.

Mr Bo had been seeking a seat on the nine-member standing committee of the politburo, the country’s highest decision-making body. He had cracked down on organised crime in Chongqing and had been tipped for greater things.

However, his ambitions took what now appears a fatal blow when his police chief Wang Lijun turned up at the US consulate in Chengdu, near Chongqing, apparently offering information. He eventually left the consulate and is under investigation but the incident damaged Mr Bo.

Another web user, Baiguqishi, focused on Mr Bo’s crackdown on corruption: “China’s corruption is caused by the system but not the individual. When the system has a problem, someone uses weakness in the system for private gain. You need to reform the system, not human nature.”

Duncan Innes-Kerr at the Economist Intelligence Unit said the decision to sack Mr Bo was an “unfortunate reflection on what it takes to be successful as a senior Chinese politician these days”.

“Bo Xilai may have been tainted by the corruption allegations swirling around those close to him, and was doubtless cynical in some of the populist positions that he adopted, but he was genuinely popular,” he said.

Vice-premier Zhang Dejiang, who is near retirement and looks like an interim measure, has replaced him.Mr Bo’s departure is a body blow for hardline communists and the party’s extreme left.

Another web user, Zhang Jianning, read Mr Bo’s fall as a struggle between right and left: “The right applauds socialism, but the left can equally destroy socialism! You’ll never understand if you don’t come to Chongqing. The Cultural Revolution is still going on.”

Meanwhile, the government has announced a growth target of 7.5 per cent for 2012, the lowest for eight years. The European recession has led to a slowdown in Chinese exports in what constitutes its biggest market.