Communist Party

BEIJING (AP) — A flamboyant and telegenic politician who until recently seemed destined for the top ranks of China’s leadership was stripped of his most powerful posts on Tuesday and his wife named in the murder of a British businessman as Chinese leaders moved to stem a scandal that has exposed divisive infighting.

The announcement that Bo Xilai was being suspended from the Communist Party’s Politburo and Central Committee and that his wife was a suspect in a homicide investigation put an end to a colorful political career. Media-savvy with a populist flair, Bo gained a nationwide following for busting organized crime and for reviving communist culture while running the inland mega-city of Chongqing.

His publicity-seeking ways angered some in the top leadership, however. In recent weeks, allegations of Bo’s and his family’s misdeeds leaked into public view, threatening to complicate preparations by the leadership for a delicate, once-a-decade transition to younger leaders at a congress later this year.

“This means the political career of Bo Xilai is over,” said Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The party wants to really resolve the Bo Xilai crisis in a relatively short period of time. They want to make sure that the attention for the 18th party congress will not suffer too much from the Bo Xilai episode.”

Bo’s patrons included retired party elders who retain influence over senior appointments, and among his vocal supporters were influential generals and party members, scholars and ordinary Chinese who identify themselves as leftists. His removal raises questions about whether Chinese leaders will have to make concessions to them to achieve the political balance that has restrained factional fighting in recent decades.

“A political succession that seemed completely predictable has been upended,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a China politics expert at University of Miami. “We may be in for more surprises.”

An editorial to run Wednesday in the party’s People’s Daily newspaper appealed for unity and said the investigation into Bo’s violations would show the leadership’s “solid resolve in safeguarding party discipline and the rule of law.”

Tuesday’s announcement, carried by state media, provided details of what has been a lurid and embarrassing scandal for the leadership.

Bo’s removal from top government posts came on suspicion of involvement in unspecified but “serious discipline violations,” the Central Committee said, and his case was handed over to internal party investigators.

His wife, Gu Kailai, and an orderly at their home were being investigated for intentional homicide in the death of Briton Neil Heywood, the Xinhua News Agency said. Heywood’s death in November in Chongqing was initially blamed on excessive drinking, something his friends have said he was not known to do.

Tuesday’s brief reports sketch out and corroborate accounts that have circulated among politically connected Chinese ever since Bo’s high-flying career began unraveling in February after a trusted aide fled temporarily to the U.S.

Consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu.

The aide, Wang Lijun, had suspicions that Bo’s family was involved in Heywood’s death, people familiar with the case said. After Bo sought to squelch an investigation, Wang sought asylum in the consulate and brought with him documents, the people said.

The Xinhua report confirmed that while at the consulate, Wang alleged that Heywood had been murdered. The allegations prompted the British government to ask for a new inquiry and, Xinhua said, prompted Chinese authorities to reopen an investigation.

The Xinhua account said that Gu and the couple’s son, Bo Guagua, had been on good terms with Heywood but that they had a conflict over unspecified “economic interests” that worsened. The investigators found that Heywood’s death was likely a homicide and that Gu and the family orderly, Zhang Xiaojun, are suspects, Xinhua said.

British media previously reported that Heywood’s family and friends appeared to dismiss foul play when he died in November. Instead the family believed he had died of a heart attack.

While the British government had not initially sought an investigation, it welcomed Tuesday’s announcement of a new probe.

“We now look forward to seeing those investigations take place and hearing the outcome of those investigations,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “I don’t want to prejudice their conduct in any way.”

While Bo officially is suspended and still a party member, the same tactic was used in 2006 against Shanghai’s party secretary, Chen Liangyu, who was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison for bribery, abuse of power and other acts of corruption.

The Xinhua report about Heywood’s death referred to Bo as “comrade,” a term reserved for party members. But it identified his wife as “Bogu Kailai,” an unexplained combining of their last names.

Even before Wang’s flight to the consulate, Bo’s standing had been under fire. His signature campaigns — a crackdown on organized crime and a revival of Mao Zedong-era communist songs and stories — gained him a national following but also earned him critics.

The gang busting ran roughshod over civil liberties, with legal scholars and some businessmen victims accusing authorities of torture and other tactics to steer deals toward people in Bo’s favor.

Meanwhile, the Mao culture campaign dredged up memories of the chaotic, radical Cultural Revolution in which many Chinese were persecuted for being insufficiently loyal.

In promising a thorough investigation into Bo, the People’s Daily editorial said: “There is no privileged citizen before the law. The Party does not tolerate any special member who is above the law. No one can interfere with law enforcement and anyone who violates the law could not be at large.”

Associated Press reporters Gillian Wong in Beijing and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

Chinese police officers on watch near the Central Committee’s annual meeting in Beijing on Monday, where China’s top 371 members of the ruling party discuss major issues and strengthen professional networks.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIJING — The ruling Communist Party approved a program Tuesday to enhance its popularity at home and China’s image abroad at a time when the leadership is struggling with domestic unrest and a delicate succession.

Ending a four-day annual policy meeting — the Central Committee, nearly 400 of the power elite — wrapped up their gathering with the adoption of a communique on boosting China’s cultural influence overseas while reinforcing socialist principles among the increasingly independent population at home.

“More and more, culture is becoming an important element of comprehensive national strength and competitiveness,” the communique said.

While the gathering’s stated aim was to hammer out the new cultural initiative, the closed-door event was an occasion for networking and jockeying over the transition when President Hu Jintao and many other top leaders begin to step down a year from now.

The focus on cultural issues — a shorthand for ideology — comes at a precarious time for the leadership. Beijing feels that China’s stunning rise should translate into more respect from other powers and a greater say in world affairs. Meanwhile, at home, Chinese leaders are under pressure from a public that is upset over income inequality, corruption and other ills of rapid growth and feeling entitled by rising prosperity to demand change.

China’s cultural weakness was bemoaned in an editorial in the overseas edition of the party’s official People’s Daily Tuesday penned by Ye Xiaowen, a Central Committee alternate and former top official for overseeing religious groups.

Cultural development has lagged behind rising diplomatic and economic clout, reducing China’s overall influence and exposing it to foreign dominance, Ye wrote.

Tens of thousands of people attended a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Saturday to mark the 22nd anniversary of the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIJING — Chinese security forces rounded up more government critics ahead of Saturday’s anniversary of the crushing of the 1989 pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, adding to an already harsh crackdown on dissent, activists said.

The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, lashed out at the U.S. government over calls for a full accounting of the military assault on civilians 22 years ago, saying the issue was closed.

“A clear conclusion has already been made concerning the political turmoil that happened in the late 1980s,” spokesman Hong Lei was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Stricter measures against dissidents are routine on the June 4 anniversary, but this year coincided with the most sweeping suppression campaign in many years. Hundreds of activists, lawyers and bloggers have been questioned, detained or simply have disappeared in the four-month campaign that aims to quash even the possibility of a pro-democracy movement forming along the lines of those sweeping the Arab world.

Bao Tong, a former aide to the late liberal Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, was taken to an unknown location by security officers this week along with his wife, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a group that publicizes information on dissidents collected from sources within China.

Bao served a prison sentence following the military crackdown, while Zhao, his former boss, was deposed for sympathizing with the protesters and lived out his life under house arrest in Beijing. Calls to Bao’s home rang unanswered Saturday.

Chen Ziming, whose liberal think tank sought to mediate between the students and Communist Party leaders, was told he would not be permitted to leave home before June 10, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

A number of other activists have been warned not to leave home, issue statements, or speak to media, according to the two groups.

Twenty-two years later, few young Chinese remember the events that marked the last popular challenge to Communist rule in the country. The decades since have seen the economy boom and the Communist Party relinquish much of its day-to-day control over many areas of society while still making no significant moves toward changing the one-party authoritarian political system.

The Chinese government has never fully disclosed what happened when the military crushed the weekslong Tiananmen protests, which it branded a “counterrevolutionary riot.” Hundreds, possibly more, were killed when troops backed with tanks fought their way to the square into central Beijing on the night of June 3-4.

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people held aloft candles to mark the anniversary in a large park, turning six soccer fields into a sea of light.

Democracy activists laid a wreath at a makeshift memorial and bowed three times in customary Chinese mourning tradition. Crowds watched video messages from Ding Zilin and Wang Dan, one of the 1989 movement’s leading voices.

“We want to give a very strong message to the Communist regime that they cannot suppress the memory of June 4,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker and pro-democracy activist. “For China, it is the darkest age for human rights. We can see all the human rights defenders being arrested
and suppressed.”