Bo was dramatically removed from his post in Chongqing last month, and on April 10 stripped of his membership in the Party Central Committee and the 25-member Politburo. Authorities said Bo is being investigated for “severe violations” of the Party’s internal discipline rules while his wife and a household aide were arrested on suspicion of killing British businessman Neil Heywood.
As the scandal continues to unfold — fueled by Internet rumor and reports on overseas Mandarin-language Web sites hostile to the Chinese government — speculation has now centered on Zhou’s relationship with Bo, and whether Zhou might eventually become the next casualty of the Communist Party’s biggest leadership crisis in more than two decades.
Zhou’s future and fate are of more than passing interest here, since he is one of the most powerful, if less visible, figures in the Chinese Communist Party, with control of the vast security forces and the judiciary, including all the prosecutors. He sits on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, which effectively runs the country as a kind of collective leadership; its other members include China’s president and prime minister.
The speculation intensified this week with the release of an April 17 Xinhua editorial hinting that more high-level firings may be coming. “The investigation into Bo,” the editorial said, “serves as a declaration to all Party members that no matter what position one holds, Party members shall never place themselves over Party discipline and the law.”
Chinese authorities have released little about their ongoing investigation into Bo, his wife, Gu Kailai, or other associates in his Chongqing inner circle who have been detained. In the vacuum of real information, citizens who have been closely following the saga through overseas Internet reports, and outside China-watchers, have been trying to glean information from the most innocuous signs, such as how much or how little a senior leader appears in the official media.
Zhou’s past and present statements and appearances are being closely dissected for any hints of internal strife.
For example, on March 8, during the annual meeting of China’s national legislature, Zhou made a highly-public appearance before the delegation from Chongqing, heaping praise on Bo and his achievements. Bo at the time was already reeling from his former police chief Wang Lijun’s flight to the American consulate in Chengdu, where Wang first outlined a dramatic tale of political intrigue, corruption and murder in Chongqing.