BEIJING — A once-rising Chinese political star commented for the first time Friday on a scandal involving his police chief possibly seeking U.S. asylum, saying he had been negligent in not foreseeing the crisis that has clouded his political future.
Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai spoke at a meeting on the sidelines of the national legislative session in Beijing, a day after his absence from an important meeting of the body raised speculation about new setbacks to his political ambitions. Bo’s highly unusual unexplained absence on Thursday came as the mystery surrounding the city’s ex-police chief and Bo’s former right-hand man, Wang Lijun, 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 no seat or place card for him was evident. The body is holding its annual 10-day session in Beijing this month. Answering questions Friday morning at a meeting of the Chongqing delegation, the telegenic, somewhat flamboyant Bo said he missed Thursday’s session because he was ill. He said Wang was under investigation and conceded to failings in leadership. “This was a case of negligent supervision on my part,” said Bo, who had been considered a leading candidate for appointment to the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee at its national party congress this fall. Bo declined to discuss his political future other than say he had not factored this year’s congress, the party’s 18th since its 1921 founding, into his future. “The best way for Chongqing to welcome the 18th congress is for us to do a good job carrying out our tasks,” Bo said. The Wang scandal and Bo’s Thursday absence have drawn huge media attention, and security personnel at the legislature’s central Beijing seat, the Great Hall of the People, were forced to keep back hundreds of journalists hoping to gain entry to the meeting.
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 U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu last month in what was believed to have been an unsuccessful bid for political asylum. Chongqing officials have said Wang was suffering from stress and was undergoing therapy. However, central government officials say he is under investigation and will face legal sanction depending on the outcome. In an interview this week with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television, Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan said he pursued Wang to Chengdu and had persuaded him to return to Chongqing before state security agents took him away. In doing so, Huang said he had avoided a “foreign policy crisis.” U.S. officials say Wang had an appointment at the consulate and left on his own volition, but have refused to discuss anything that happened inside the consulate. Speculation has been rife about the reasons behind Wang’s visit to the consulate, with some saying he may have relayed information about corruption within the city administration. With a muzzled state-controlled media and little government transparency, such rumors easily gain traction online and in overseas publications that follow Chinese politics.