China is preparing for a once-in-a-decade transition this fall to a new president, a new prime minister and new occupants in seven of the nine seats on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. But the saga surrounding Bo, a local party chief, has upended the carefully stage-managed transfer of power and led to reports of rifts in the leadership ranks.
Even before this scandal erupted, Bo was seen by many as a disruptive force in a party that prizes public unanimity and faceless conformity. His “red revival” campaign — including mass singing of revolutionary anthems — stirred fears of a throwback to the Cultural Revolution, and his highly public crackdown on crime was considered particularly brutal. He unabashedly held up his province-size city as a new “model” for socialist development, with its emphasis on social welfare — a direct challenge to the “reform” elements of the party, led by outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, which advocate more Western-style economic liberalization.
Wen directly challenged Bo in a news conference last month, saying the economic opening needed to continue or China risked returning to the turmoil of the 1960s and early ’70s.
For weeks, disparate threads of Bo’s murky case had unfolded mainly through Internet rumors and overseas media reports. But two articles appearing after 11 p.m. Tuesday on Xinhua, China’s state news agency, finally began to unravel some of the mystery, offering the only official version so far of what happened in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Bo until recently served as party boss.
Bo’s public troubles began Feb. 6, when his former police chief and onetime right-hand man, Wang Lijun, entered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and, according to Xinhua, made allegations about the death of the Briton, Neil Heywood. Heywood’s body was found in a Chongqing hotel room Nov. 15, and police initially said he died of heavy drinking, but the body was cremated before an autopsy could be performed. Wang told American diplomats that the Briton was murdered, Xinhua said.
After a day inside the consulate, Wang left and was taken by public security officials to Beijing, where he was placed under investigation. But based on his allegations, police reopened the case of Heywood’s death and found that the Briton had been involved in business dealings with Bo’s wife, Bo Gu Kailai, and was close to Bo’s son, Bo Guagua.