A top Chinese leader has been removed from his post, as part of a widening political scandal in which one of his trusted aides visited the U.S. consulate in southwestern China.
Fall from grace
Just days ago, Bo Xilai, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, was one of China's best known and most charismatic politicians. His rapid fall from grace came Thursday in a brief report from the official Xinhua news agency saying he has been replaced.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin rejected any concerns the move indicates turmoil in the Chinese leadership.
Liu said he thinks this way of thinking is ridiculous. The Chinese spokesman also refused to answer questions about whether Bo would retain his seat on the 25-member Politburo.
Why he was removed
The scandal that brought Bo down began last month, when his hand-picked chief of police Wang Lijun drove to the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu and stayed there overnight. American officials have not revealed the purpose of his visit. He is now in the custody of Chinese investigators.
Bo and Wang led a controversial crackdown on Chongqing's gangs and the politicians and policemen who protected them.
In a rare public rebuke, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao foreshadowed the latest development in his annual news conference Wednesday.
Wen did not mention Bo by name, but said the current party committee and government of Chongqing must seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident and learn lessons.
David Kelly, at China Policy, which analyzes political, economic and social developments, says Bo has been a risk taker because he comes from a politically prominent family.
?He is from a high-flying family, a family who had got to a high position many years ago, and he still carried the political capital from that," said Kelly. "Somebody in that position - if they win, they win well, if they lose, they lose everything.?
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The Xinhua report did not say what Bo would be doing next.
The director of Indiana University's Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, Scott Kennedy, says that is not a good sign for Bo's political career.
?I would expect that, given his - he is not in bad health - that within the next few weeks to months, his future will be made much clearer," said Kennedy. "But precisely what that is going to be, whether it will be a quiet retirement, whether it will be an honorary job someplace, or some type of criminal prosecution, or some type of internal discipline by the party, we will just have to wait and see.?
Kennedy says any top Chinese leadership contest that becomes public is usually a combination of potential wrongdoing and political motivations.
?So, even if Bo Xilai has done nothing wrong, whatsoever, according to Chinese law, the existence of this problem simply created an opportunity for those who are against him to make it so that he would not be able to move forward,? added Kennedy.
Kennedy says the removal sends mixed messages. He says Bo is not associated with progressive reforms, so his sidelining may be an indication that those in the leadership who support liberalization may have the upper hand. However, he says the way in which the decision was made lacks transparency and is a step in exactly the opposite direction.