Wang Lijun incident
|Wang Lijun incident|
The Wang Lijun incident is a major Chinese political scandal which began in February 2012 when Wang Lijun, vice-mayor of Chongqing, was abruptly demoted, after revealing to the United States Consulate details of British businessman Neil Heywood's murder and subsequent cover-up. Amidst rumors of political infighting with Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai, Wang arranged a meeting on 6 February at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, where he remained for over 30 hours. Observers speculated that Wang may have been attempting to defect or to seek refuge from Bo. He then left the consulate of his own volition, and was taken to Beijing by agents and the vice minister Qiu Jin (邱进) of the Ministry of State Security. The Chongqing municipal government declared that Wang was receiving "vacation-style medical treatment".
The scandal led to the abrupt end to the political career of Bo Xilai, who was seen as a top contender for a top leadership position at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. In the scandal's aftermath, Bo was dismissed from his position of Chongqing party chief and also removed from the Politburo in March 2012. The scandal dealt a significant blow to the credibility of the "Chongqing model" and the "red culture movement" promoted by Bo.
Wang Lijun was, until February 2012, vice-mayor and head of the Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, one of the four direct-controlled municipalities. Prior to his arrival there, Wang worked his way up the ranks of the Public Security Bureau in Liaoning province.
From 1992 to 1995, he served as the deputy director of the public security department in Tiefa, Liaoning, and from 1995 to 2000 held the same position in Tieling, also in Liaoning. In 2000, Wang was appointed director of the public security department in Tieling, and was noted for his campaigns to crack down on corruption and criminal gangs.
During his tenure in Tieling, Wang was allegedly involved in a corruption scandal. Details surrounding the case are unclear, though there is speculation that Wang may have been implicated in corruption. Wang's predecessor as director of the Teiling public security department, Gu Fengjie, has reportedly been detained pending investigation on corruption charges. From 2003 to 2008, Wang was vice-mayor and Public Security Bureau chief of Jinzhou city.
In both Liaoning and Chongqing, Wang's career was tied closely to that of Bo Xilai, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. While Bo served as governor of Liaoning, Wang Lijun worked under him as director of the Public Security Bureau in Jinzhou. Wang followed Bo to Chongqing in 2008, and became his top-enforcer in a massive crackdown on crime that culminated in the Chongqing Gang Trials.
Visit to U.S. consulate
Media reported that Wang came under scrutiny by the Communist Commission for Discipline Inspection for his possible involvement in the Tieling corruption case. On 2 February 2012, Wang was abruptly reassigned "to a post overseeing municipal education, science, and environmental affairs", regarded as a less prestigious post than his former public security office. A Communist Party report alleged in March 2012 that Bo Xilai had demoted Wang to derail a corruption investigation against Bo's family.
Although details are sparse, observers believe that Wang may have sought leniency with the Inspection Commission in exchange for information on corruption and embezzlement by Bo Xilai and/or his wife. Bo is speculated to have learned about Wang's accusations, and ordered the arrest of several of Wang’s close allies and associates.
On 6 February 2012, Wang traveled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. After 30 hours and following a meeting with U.S. consular officials, Wang reportedly "left of his own volition". The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged on 9 February 2012 Wang's visit to the U.S. consulate, and said that the matter was "under investigation".
The U.S. Department of State did not comment on the content of the meeting, though observers speculated that Wang might have been seeking political asylum, or at a minimum was seeking to extricate himself from the reach of Bo Xilai, who had already allegedly arrested several of Wang's allies. According to the New York Times, Wang had sought political asylum in the consulate, which was denied.
Overseas Chinese-language dissident website Boxun alleged that Wang brought evidence incriminating Bo Xilai to the meeting at the consulate. Two unnamed U.S. officials said that Wang had brought evidence of corruption to the consulate, some of which incriminated individuals in the highest ranks of the Communist Party, including Bo Xilai. Several people briefed on the matter said that Wang also provided information about Heywood's death, namely that he had been poisoned.
Seventy carloads of armed police had reportedly pursued Wang from Chongqing to Chengdu, and proceeded to surround the consulate while Wang was in the consulate. When authorities in Beijing were informed of the encirclement, they demanded the Chongqing security forces withdraw. They then dispatched Qiu Jin, vice minister of the Ministry of State Security, to escort Wang to Beijing on a first-class flight. Following his departure from the consulate, Wang was immediately seized by the security agents and taken to Beijing.
On 9 February, several overseas Chinese-language websites posted an open letter allegedly written by Wang accusing Bo of corruption and harboring criminal connections. The letter, apparently secretly sent to friends overseas prior to his forced leave, referred to Bo as "the greatest gangster in China." There are Internet rumours that Wang entered the U.S. Consulate with documents incriminating Bo asking for their safekeeping.
Shortly after Wang's meeting at the U.S. consulate, Chongqing government information offices sought to discredit Wang by stating he was "seriously indisposed due to long term overwork and intense mental stress. Currently he has been authorized to undergo vacation-style medical treatment." The phrase became a target of derisive mockery on the Chinese internet; microblogs seized on the opportunity to make an internet meme out of the phrase "vacation-style treatment," and a plethora of parodies surfaced. One post read: "Let's continue: Consoling-style rape, harmony-style looting, environmental-style murder, scientific-style theft."
As the chain of events unfolded Chinese government censors began blocking keywords on an ad hoc basis, such as "U.S. Consulate", "political asylum", "Governor Bo" etc. Many of the keywords were unblocked and re-blocked intermittently. "Wang Lijun" was blocked on 4 February, but was unblocked four days later. Microblogs were inundated with references to the Wang story with no significant interference from censors. The mixed reactions from the authorities led to speculation that the government was unsure about how to deal with the events, or that they were letting word spread deliberately to weaken Bo's political base.
In the aftermath of the event, political commentators speculated Wang's actions might imperil Bo Xilai's further political advancement. China analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam suggested that the Wang Lijun incident could doom Bo's chances of further advancement to the Politburo Standing Committee: "When they do the horse- trading in Beijing, his enemies will definitely use this to shoot down his candidacy," said Lam.
Han Deqiang of the neo-leftist Utopia website called it "a serious blow to the Chongqing Model" promoted by Bo. Gao Wenqian, senior analyst with Human Rights in China, wrote that the event served to discredit the "core socialist values" promoted by Bo Xilai through the "red culture movement" in Chongqing. "Its repercussion is comparable to that of the Lin Biao Incident in the late 1970s, which led to the demise of the Cultural Revolution and the mythology surrounding Mao Zedong", wrote Gao.
In early March 2012, party general secretary Hu Jintao denounced Wang as a traitor to the Communist Party and the nation in an internal briefing relayed to members of the Communist Party's Political Consultative Conference. The government later publicly described Wang's decision to seek refuge in an American consulate as a "serious political incident". The incident is seen by Hu Shuli as bearing consequences for Sino-American relations, especially on top of the death of British national Neil Heywood.
Bo Xilai was absent from the opening meeting of the National People's Congress on 8 March—the only member of the 25-member Politburo not in attendance. Although he later appeared at the meeting and gave a press conference to both local and foreign journalists, his initial failure to appear, coupled with more recent charges by former rivals and spurned businessmen, ignited speculation about his political future. Bo was replaced as Chongqing Communist Party Secretary on 15 March 2012, following public comments by Premier Wen Jiabao about the need for Chongqing officials to seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident.
In mid-March 2012, allegations of a coup d'état led by Bo and Zhou Yongkang, Bo's strongest supporter in the Politburo Standing Committee, spread across the internet, via overseas Chinese-language websites. There were also allegations that gunshots were heard in Beijing. However, the rumors of a coup were proven false, although the allegations underscored the tensions between the economic reformist and Maoist traditionalist factions of the Communist Party regarding the political crisis. The Chinese government later arrested six people and shut down sixteen websites for allegedly spreading rumors of the coup.
Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai was convicted of the poisoning of Heywood and received a suspended death sentence in August 2012. In September 2012, Wang was convicted on charges of abuse of power, bribery, and defection, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In August 2013, Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in prison for bribery, abuse of power and corruption.
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