BEIJING – Bo Xilai, a man recently seen as headed for the center of power in China, was removed from his office as the Chinese Communist Party chief of the mega-city of Chongqing, a stunning turnabout for one of the nation’s most controversial politicians.
A terse statement posted Thursday morning on a website run by the official Xinhua news service said that Bo would be replaced in Chongqing by the nation’s vice premier, Zhang Dejiang. It did not specify whether Bo also would lose his seat on the nation’s 25-member politburo.
Bo’s dismissal appeared to be part of a power struggle beneath the surface of China’s ruling elite. Bo was widely seen as a leading candidate to be appointed this year for the standing committee of the politburo, a promotion that would have put him at the center of power in the second-largest economy in the world.
There was widespread speculation that Bo’s rise made some senior Chinese Communist Party leaders nervous. He was famous, or infamous, depending on the audience, for launching a populist political campaign in Chongqing that combined both anti-corruption crackdowns and a revival of Mao Zedong-era culture.
On Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao warned that unless the nation continued to pursue political reform, it risked sliding into turbulence like that of the Cultural Revolution, a chaotic period sparked by Mao that displaced, injured or killed millions beginning in 1966.
Those highly unusual remarks by Wen – the Cultural Revolution is rarely discussed openly – appeared at the time to in part be a condemnation of Bo’s approach. That impression was cemented Thursday.
Bo’s ascent to power had taken a heavy blow in early February after his former police chief showed up at an American consulate, spent the night and, perhaps, sought asylum. The former security head, Wang Lijun, was placed under central government investigation.
Bo’s political fate remained uncertain in the aftermath. He made the journey to Beijing for the annual rubber-stamp National People’s Congress this month and, except for a missed meeting, gave no obvious signs of being on the way out. At a news conference on the sidelines of the People’s Congress last Friday, Bo said he was surprised by the events surrounding Wang Lijun and acknowledged poor management on his part.
Bo also warned that the widening wealth divide in China could mean the nation is going down “a wrong road.” He extolled Chongqing as an example of a place that was seeking to address those dangers.
On Wednesday, Wen also referred to problems like income disparity in China. But he, and other Chinese leaders, apparently did not think that Bo, who favored a resurgence of Maoist culture, was the right man for the job.