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CHINESE WHISPERS

All that secrecy eventually ended in a game of Chinese whispers. A curt press release from the Chinese foreign ministry, published in all newspapers, confirmed that Wang Lijun, the former police chief of Chongqing, had “entered the US Consulate in Chengdu on February 6, and left after remaining there for one day”.

Was this a botched attempt to defect, or to find temporary refuge? No one knows. A spokeswoman of the US state department told reporters in Washington that Wang, who was also the vice-mayor of Chongqing, had come to the consulate by appointment and left “of his own volition”.

Wang Lijun’s name has been inseparable from that of Bo Xilai, the colourful party chief of Chongqing, known for his tough stand against crime. With Bo’s encouragement, Wang, as the chief of police, initiated a crackdown against criminal gangs in Chongqing from 2008 to 2010. This led to the arrest of many top officials and the execution of his predecessor. Wang became a legend; a film was to be made on him.

But early this month, he was stripped of his post. A few days later, photographs started circulating on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, of police cars outside the US consulate in Chengdu. In a couple of hours, the Chongqing government website issued a notice saying, “According to reports, because of long term overwork, a state of anxiety and indisposition, Vice Mayor Wang Lijun has agreed to accept vacation style medical treatment.’’ Then came the press release from the foreign ministry, confirming Wang’s visit to the consulate.

A clumsier way of dealing with the matter cannot be imagined. The ordinary Chinese is speculating about Wang’s motives — this is the first time that a senior government official has sought refuge with the Americans. It’s also now known that Bo Xilai sent security cars to bring Wang back to Chongqing, but so did Beijing. Emerging from the US consulate, Wang flew to Beijing along with central security men.

Top secret

Bo’s fate now has also become the subject of much speculation. He is known to be keen on getting into the top-most level of the communist party — the nine-member standing committee of the politburo — which is to be reorganized later this year. The son of a well-known comrade of Mao, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution (reportedly betrayed by Bo himself), his flamboyant style, his crackdown on corruption and his espousal of revolutionary songs — that he made Chongqing’s citizens sing en masse — have made him popular with the people.

Rumours are rife that Wang Lijun was himself a suspect in a corruption scandal, and tried to get even by exposing Bo Xilai. An open letter, supposedly written by him, posted on the internet and then taken off, calls Bo a hypocrite, despot, corrupt and evil, and says that the relevant reports have all been sent to the authorities.

Meanwhile, the phrase, ‘vacation style therapy’, is poised to become another “My dad is Li Gang’’ (stated by the drunk son of a police chief when he was stopped after he ran over a student) on the internet. A lawyer prosecuted by Wang for allegedly falsifying evidence while defending a Chongqing mafia boss has offered his services to the overworked “patient”. Barbs are being directed against what’s known as the “Fifty Cent party”, the phrase used for those who support the government. “All 50 cents know that the Americans are their daddy in critical moments like this…’’ goes one. Comparisons are also being drawn with Lin Biao, Mao’s aide who fell from grace and died in a plane crash, which, many Chinese believe, was engineered by the Chairman. One Weibo post says: “Before Bo Xilai was ready to play Mao Zedong, Wang Lijun was already playing Lin Biao.’’