Bo Xilai absent from high-level NPC meeting

By Christopher Bodeen, AP

BEIJING–A high-flying Chinese politician dogged by a scandal involving a subordinate possibly seeking U.S. asylum missed an important session of the national legislature Thursday, raising speculation about new setbacks to his political ambitions. Chongqing boss Bo Xilai’s highly unusual unexplained absence came as the mystery surrounding the city’s ex-police chief and Bo’s former right-hand man grew even murkier. A local businessman said Wednesday that police had threatened him over his plans to release information shedding light on connections between the former police chief and a local tycoon. Bo was the only one of the 25 members of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo not at Thursday’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, and a seat or place card for him was not evident. The body is holding its annual 10-day session in Beijing this month. State broadcaster CCTV’s evening news showed Bo attending a meeting Thursday of the Chongqing delegation, although he was not heard speaking.

The Chongqing delegation to the congress is scheduled to hold a round-table with media on Friday, although it isn’t clear if Bo will attend. The telegenic, somewhat flamboyant leader had already met with delegation members on Monday’s opening day of the session, and he attended Wednesday’ session, too. Bo’s political future has been under question since former police chief Wang Lijun was believed to have unsuccessfully sought political asylum last month at the U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu. Wang has since been taken into custody by investigators. A spokesman for the NPC, who like many Chinese officials would not give his name, said he had no information about Bo’s absence from Thursday’s session. Bo, Chongqing’s Communist Party secretary and top official, was thought to have a strong chance of being named to the Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee later this year before Wang’s scandal broke. Bo had entrusted Wang with carrying out a high-profile crackdown on Chongqing’s organized crime syndicates and their police protectors, a campaign later criticized for its alleged use of torture and other violations. Amid rumors that Wang was being investigated over past dealings in another city, he apparently fell out with Bo and made a dash for the Chengdu consulate.