uthorities in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing have confirmed the replacement of a former top gang-busting police chief, whose reported investigation in a graft probe may bring down a key contender in this year’s leadership transition.
An official who answered the phone at the Chongqing municipal police department confirmed that Guan Haixiang, formerly a secretary of the ruling Communist Party in the city’s Jiangjin district, had taken up the post of Chongqing police chief.
Guan fills the gap left by graft-busting cop and deputy mayor Wang Lijun, who was relieved of his posts earlier this year.
“That’s right,” the official said, when asked if Guan had now taken up the Chongqing police chief’s job. “I believe [he started work] on Feb. 3.”
Asked if Guan’s appointment was connected to Wang’s departure, the official answered: “Yes.”
According to Hong Kong media reports, Wang, who is reportedly now under investigation by the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Beijing, has now been designated as having “serious political problems.”
Wang, whose visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6 sparked a large police presence and widespread speculation, was formerly deputy and graft-busting right-hand man to the city’s Communist Party chief and rising political star Bo Xilai.
He was reported to have been under “extreme psychological pressure” during the visit, with the Chongqing authorities announcing that he had taken sick leave for stress.
“Political problems” can mean anything from leaking secrets, to corruption, to slandering fellow officials and spreading political rumors, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper.
Liu Dawen, former editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Outpost, said Wang’s visit to the consulate in Chengdu, from which he emerged the following day to scores of Chongqing police sent by Bo and a team of state security police from Beijing, was the likely trigger for the shift in Wang’s fortunes.
“In Chongqing, he would have been under close surveillance … so he was forced to take such an extreme measure,” Liu said. “If he had fallen into the hands of Bo Xilai in Chongqing, then he would have been in big trouble.”
Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu said Chongqing’s entire official media output was now under the control of central government in Beijing.
“They have to use Xinhua copy for everything, and anything written in Chongqing has to be approved at the highest levels of leadership before it can run,” she said.
“That means it is all running behind the news, roughly 24 hours behind.”
During his time as police chief, Wang became well-known as a formidable opponent of organized crime, heading a graft crackdown that led to scores of senior officials being jailed in the city of 30 million people.
Bo, the “princeling” son of a revolutionary Communist Party founder, is seeking promotion to the highest echelons of leadership in a crucial transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Political analysts and media reports suggest his promotion will now be in doubt, with speculation rife that Wang cut a deal with Beijing investigators to give them evidence linking Bo, or his family, to corrupt dealings.
Chinese media reports have suggested Wang himself is under probe in connection with an ongoing graft probe linked to the northeastern city of Tieling, where he had previously served as police chief.
“Bo Xilai now has no hope of getting into the Politburo Standing Committee,” according to Gao. “He will definitely lose power in future.”
But she said Bo’s problems are inherent in China’s political system, and are now unlikely to go away.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s corruption or misuse of official power. I think Bo Xilai has taken such a huge blow from this … because he created a new political model in Chongqing,” Gao said.
Bo, the son of a Party elder with a charismatic leadership style, rose to prominence as mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian, and later became associated with the campaign to bring back revolutionary songs and Mao-era socialist morality to Chongqing.
The overseas Chinese-language news site Boxun quoted Beijing-based sources as saying this week that a group of high-profile businesspeople and academics were planning to write to President Hu Jintao expressing concern that recent events in Chongqing were heralding a returning to the political infighting and factional violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
In July 2010, Chongqing authorities executed former police chief Wen Qiang for a string of crimes including accepting bribes, rape, and failure to account for his assets. Wang had played a key role in Wen’s downfall.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.