Mystery of China's missing crusading former police chief


SO, JUST where is Wang Lijun? This is the question many in China are asking after the crusading official, who oversaw a crackdown on triads in southwestern city of Chongqing, disappeared after trying to defect at the US consulate in the Sichuan capital, Chengdu.

Mr Wang was removed from his post as gang-busting police chief earlier this month. The Chongqing government said he was suffering from “immense mental stress and serious physical discomfort” and was receiving “vacation-style therapy”.

He was instead put in charge of the section dealing with sanitation and libraries, which was read as a sign that he had been ousted.

The plight of the former police official has prompted speculation about the political future of his patron, Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, who covets a seat on the nine-man politburo standing committee, the hub of power in China.

The workings of power in China, which is run by the Communist Party, are murky. All kinds of machinations and manoeuvrings go on ahead of a leadership change, which is set to take place later this year.

Mr Wang (52), whose official title is deputy mayor, became a legend in China after he implemented a crackdown on gangs in Chongqing. More than 1,500 people were arrested, including gangsters, prominent businessmen and 14 high-ranking officials.

The accusations included murder over singing karaoke too loudly and machete attacks. Several were executed, including the former head of the city’s judicial authorities.

Mr Wang was working at the behest of Mr Bo, a former trade tsar and regional boss, who has used his anti-crime plan, plus a campaign of Maoist propaganda, to boost his profile.

The incident has been widely covered in China and the sight of his former star protégé seeking asylum at the US embassy marks a major setback for Mr Bo’s ambitions. He is one of the “princelings” – the children of the 1949 Maoist revolutionaries – who are gaining more political traction in the Chinese power structure.

By not granting Mr Wang asylum the US government ensures that vice-president Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in October as party head, will go ahead with his plan to visit the US, Ireland and Turkey this week. Had the consulate accepted his defection, it could have forced Mr Xi to cancel the trip.