China Downplays Rumors Surrounding Top Politician

Posted February 9th, 2012 at 5:15 am (UTC-5)
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China on Thursday dismissed an incident involving a high-profile politician who visited a U.S. consulate following a possible political scandal.

U.S. officials on Wednesday confirmed that Wang Lijun, the deputy mayor and former police chief of Chongqing, visited a U.S. consulate earlier this week in the city of Chengdu. But they did not indicate what the meeting was about. Some news reports speculated that he was seeking asylum.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai on Thursday dismissed the incident, saying it has been resolved and would not affect next week's visit to the U.S. by Vice President Xi Jinping.

“What happened two days ago was an extremely isolated case, and it has already been resolved. It has nothing to do with the visit by Vice President Xi.”

Wang was dismissed as Chongqing's police chief last week, sparking rumors of a falling-out with the city's powerful Communist Party secretary, Bo Xilai.

The rumors intensified when the city government on Wednesday said Wang was undergoing “vacation-style treatment” for stress and over-work. Sick leave is sometimes used as a euphemism for political purge in China.

David Kelly, the director of the Beijing-based China Policy organization, told VOA that the issue is a potential embarrassment for Bo Xilai, who had been expected to fill a top position in China's leadership transition later this year.

“He is now, I would say on the face of it, caused some embarrassment. Mr. Bo's efforts in Chongqinq seem to have fallen on hard times.”

Wang gained national prominence after being appointed by Bo to lead an aggressive crackdown against organized crime, which resulted in the arrest of scores of senior officials in the city-province. The crackdown won praise by some in China, but drew criticism from others for being too heavy-handed.

Bo Xilai and his policies appeared to still have the endorsement of Chinese authorities on Thursday. The official paper of China's Communist Party, the People's Daily, published a front-page article praising the security advances made in Chongqing since Bo and Wang's anti-crime campaign took effect three years ago.