Beijing announced late Tuesday that Bo Xilai, the ousted Communist Party chief of metropolitan Chongqing, has been suspended from his other party positions and that his wife Gu Kailai has been held as a suspect in a homicide investigation.
The announcements came as a stunning twist in the furore over Bo and his family that erupted after his once-trusted aide, Chongqing deputy mayor and police chief Wang Lijun, went to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, not too far away from Chongqing, for an overnight stay in February, supposedly seeking political asylum.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Bo has been suspended from the party's 25-member Politburo and larger 200-member Central Committee as he is suspected of having been involved in serious disciplinary violations.
Xinhua further said China's police authorities have set up a team to reinvestigate the death of British citizen Neil Heywood, who was found dead in a Chongqing hotel room last November. There is evidence to indicate that Heywood was murdered, and Bo's wife and one of his household assistants are "highly suspected" of involvement in the case, Xinhua added.
Bo, the son of a Communist Party of China founding leader, who is known for his populist appeal, seemed until recently destined for a seat on the party's decision-making Politburo Standing Committee.
His fall from grace is seen by the media as the most dramatic convulsion in China's secretive leadership since 1989, when Jiang Zemin was picked from obscurity to head the party after the bloody crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing.
The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of Bo's spectacular downfall:
United Daily News:
Lin Chong-pin, a former deputy defense minister who is now a professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, said Bo's fall from grace has exposed certain trends contrary to previous propositions.
First of all, Bo's "red culture" campaign -- a drive to instill revolutionary fervor in citizens by singing patriotic songs and reading communist classics -- was primarily a strategy to challenge the central authorities in a bid to win power.
Over the past two years, Lin said, Bo has been critical of the widening wealth gap in Chinese society under the leadership of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and has called for a return to the leftist policy line adopted by the late Party Chairman Mao Zedong.
As Bo's father was cruelly persecuted during the Mao-led Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 and his mother even died at the hands of the Red Guards during that turbulent period, Lin said it was unlikely that Bo wanted to see a revival of such a leftist policy.
Despite previous reports of a rift between Hu and Wen over political reform issues, Lin said Bo's ouster has proved the falseness of such reports. "Bo would not have been removed from his party posts without close Hu-Wen cooperation," Lin noted.
Noting that China's policy or approach toward external affairs have often been affected by its domestic political climate or atmosphere, Lin said he believes China will adopt a more moderate approach toward Taiwan and its Asian neighbors in the future.
According to Lin, China maintained friendly ties with neighboring countries in the early years of Hu's presidency. The situation changed in 2009 due to the growing influence of the Bo-led leftist faction, Lin said.
"Bo began a sweeping crime busting campaign in July 2009 to challenge the Hu-Wen political establishment, a trend that prompted the Beijing authorities to adopt a hardline stance on border issues and led to standoffs in the South China Sea with U.S., Japanese, Vietnamese and Philippines forces in recent years," Lin said, adding that these kinds of confrontational moves could decline in the coming years. (April 11, 2012)
United Evening News:
A local think tank scholar who spoke on condition of anonymity said it remains unclear whether Bo's downfall resulted from power struggle or ideological divisions.
A day before the announcement of Bo's dismissal from the Chongqing party chief post, Premier Wen said the ruling CPC must carry out political reform or risk a return to the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. His remarks were seen as a rebuke to conservative supporters of Bo who oppose the Hu-Wen-advocated policy of gradual political reform toward a more liberal and market-oriented one-party "socialist democracy."
In contrast, the academic said, the CPC Central Committee announcement did not mention any policy issues at all. "Therefore, it's still premature to conclude whether Bo's fall from grace was related with power struggle or ideology," he said.
According to foreign media reports, Bo relieved Wang Lijun of the Chongqing police chief post after learning that Wang was investigating his wife's suspected involvement in Heywood's mysterious death. The reports further said Wang gave a detailed report on the CPC's high-level power struggle during his 30-hour stay in the U.S.'s Chengdu consulate. (April 11, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)