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« When to Acquire Silver, the Metal of Emperors? | Main | Silver As Currency »
Wednesday
Mar142012

China Replaces Bo Xilai as Chongqing Party Chief

Bo Xilai

BEIJING—A Chinese Communist Party leader who led a revival of Maoist ideology was removed from his post as leader of a southwestern megacity after Premier Wen Jiabao dealt him an unusual public rebuke, exposing deep rifts within the party elite ahead of a once-a-decade leadership change this fall.

Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief of Chongqing, was replaced in that position by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, the state-run Xinhua news agency announced on Thursday morning. It said the decision had been made a few days ago, but gave no further details.

Mr. Wen, in his last annual news conference as premier on Wednesday, made a thinly veiled attack on Mr Bo, who was considered a front-runner for promotion in the fall until his former police chief was detained after spending a night in a U.S. consulate last month.

Mr. Wen said Chongqing's leadership should "reflect on and learn from" the scandal, and went on to indirectly—but very obviously—criticize Mr. Bo's attempts to revive the collectivist spirit of Chairman Mao Zedong with such activities as mass renditions of revolutionary songs.

Mr. Wen also made his boldest public appeal yet for reform of China's political and leadership systems, warning that without it, China could face another "tragedy" like the Cultural Revolution.

It is extremely rare for senior Chinese leaders to criticize each other in public, even obliquely, so Mr. Wen's remarks on the final day of an annual parliament meeting were seen as a direct attack on Mr. Bo and supporters of the government model that he represents.

Before Mr. Wen's remarks, analysts had said Mr. Bo would likely retain his seat on the Politburo—the top 25 leaders—but was unlikely to reach the narrower Standing Committee—currently nine strong—and would probably be replaced as Chongqing party chief in the fall and moved to a less-powerful post.

But his political career is now effectively over, although he may remain on the Politburo, since the Xinhua statement didn't say he had also been removed from that post.

Mr. Bo's political demise is damaging for other senior party figures who back him, as well as officials and academics who support the development model he championed, hinging on strong state intervention in the economy and society.

He had earned plaudits from some party leaders, and "new leftist" academics for a crime crackdown—which critics say showed scant regard for legal process—as well as lavish spending on infrastructure.

But academics and officials in favor of liberal reforms—for whom Mr. Wen is the lead figure—have been alarmed by the revival of Maoist rhetoric and the alleged abuse of legal procedure in Chongqing.

Their preferred candidate for the new leadership is Wang Yang, Mr. Bo's predecessor in Chongqing, now party chief of the southern province of Guangdong. He advocates "small government" and won praise this year for his delicate handling of a village revolt.

Mr. Wen struck a clear blow for the liberal camp at the end of his news conference when he was asked by a foreign reporter about the scandal surrounding Wang Lijun, the former Chong-qing police chief detained by Chinese security agents after spending a night in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6.

In his first public comments on the case, Mr. Wen started by repeating official statements that Mr. Wang was being investigated and that central government authorities were taking the matter "very seriously." But he added that Chongqing leaders "must seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident and learn lessons from this incident."

Analysts said his wording—broadcast unedited on state television—had likely been approved by the Standing Committee, including Vice President Xi Jinping, expected to take over as party chief in the fall, as the issue was so sensitive.

"This was not just directed at Bo, but at whoever is behind Bo," said Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, before Thursday's announcement.

Mr. Bo at a news conference Friday admitted negligence but denied that he had offered to resign from the Politburo or was under investigation.

Mr. Wen wound up his news conference with an oblique attack on Mr. Bo's Maoist rhetoric, which critics say glosses over the horrors of the Mao era, when tens of millions of people were killed by a man-made famine in 1958-61 and the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

He noted that the party had delivered its verdict on mistakes of that period at a landmark meeting in 1978—two years after Mao's death—when it decided to switch course and launch market reforms. "Any practice that we take must be based on experience and lessons we have gained from history," he said.

Mr. Wen was quoted last year speaking publicly for the first time about how his own father was purged and forced to work on a pig farm during the Cultural Revolution.

This is unusual for the Chinese to conduct this sort of business in public.

We understand that Mr Bo will be replaced by Zhang Dejiang, a North Korean-trained economist and vice-premier, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

We expect this story to run and run, a case of watch this space.

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