China replaces Chongqing party chief after scandal

The Chinese Communist Party said on Thursday it had replaced its Chongqing chief, Politburo member Bo Xilai, in the wake of a political scandal that has been seen as dealing a blow to resurgent conservative-leaning forces in the party.

Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang has replaced Mr. Bo as Chongqing party secretary, according to a decision of the party’s Central Committee reported by the State-run Xinhua news agency on Thursday morning.

Mr. Bo, who had served as party chief in the south-western municipality since 2007, had emerged as a key figure in the next generation of the leadership that will come into office later this year as part of a once-in-a-decade transition.

Until recently, he was seen as a frontrunner to occupy a seat on the next nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the small group of high leaders that effectively runs the country. Mr. Bo, like Vice President and likely successor to President Hu Jintao Xi Jinping, is among the most recognisable faces of the party elite, part of a second-generation of emerging leaders – the children of former revolutionaries – known here as the “princelings”.

His future had been cast under a cloud following an investigation targeting the former police chief Wang Lijun, once his close associate, and triggered heated discussion in recent weeks on China’s vibrant microblogging community.

Mr. Wang appeared at a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu last month reportedly seeking asylum following a falling out with Mr. Bo, a rare open political scandal that had gripped China and also embarrassed the leadership days ahead of the annual parliament session.

His position appeared further weakened following Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments to reporters on Wednesday, when he said Chongqing authorities needed to “seriously reflect on and draw lessons” from the incident which Beijing had “taken very seriously”.

He pointedly even appeared to question the leadership of Mr. Bo, who had recently emerged as a favourite among a resurgent New Left that has questioned the push for further reforms and called for a return to Mao-inspired populist policies. Mr. Bo’s policies, dubbed by some as the “Chongqing model”, included a greater emphasis on social welfare as well as campaigns to revive “Red culture”, including the singing of red songs and sending students to work in the countryside.

Mr. Wen, who hinted that the push for further economic and political reforms had faced opposition, said  “the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution and feudalism have yet to be fully eliminated” although the Communist Party had adopted resolutions to take forward reforms in the wake of that disastrous decade.

Mr. Wen had appeared to come prepared to talk about Mr. Bo in some detail. He even invoked the CPC’s decision taken in 1978 at its third plenum to carry forward reform and opening up and draw a line over the Cultural Revolution, in an apparent reference to Chongqing’s policies.

The unusual public criticism of another Politburo member had suggested that the party’s highest leaders, including President and General Secretary Hu Jintao, had taken a decision to sideline Mr. Bo, whose less-than-promising fate now also leaves uncertain the aspirations of his many supporters. by Ananth Krishnan TH

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