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Police chief defection rumours spark China intrigue
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 9, 2012

A former Chinese police chief rumoured to have tried to defect visited a US consulate, it was confirmed Thursday, fuelling a political intrigue analysts say may signal a power struggle in China.

The speculation about Wang Lijun, who has close links to a high-profile contender to join China's top decision-making body, comes at a crucial time with a once-in-a-decade leadership transition set to start later this year.

The US embassy in Beijing confirmed Wang's visit to the consulate in Chengdu but declined to comment on the rumours he had sought asylum, saying only that he had gone there for a meeting and left "of his own volition".

China's official Xinhua news agency said authorities were "investigating the incident in which Chongqing Vice Mayor Wang Lijun entered the US consulate in southwest China and remained there for one day".

Analysts said the confirmation of the visit would further fuel speculation surrounding Wang and his boss, Chongqing's colourful but controversial Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai.

They said it may hamper Bo's chances of promotion to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, when seven members, including President Hu Jintao, step down later this year.

As Bo's deputy, Wang -- whose current whereabouts are unknown -- won a reputation for graft-busting with a campaign to rid the southwestern city of corruption in which dozens of officials were arrested.

But Chongqing authorities removed him as police chief last week before announcing Wednesday he was on leave, receiving "vacation-style treatment" for stress and over-work.

"Wang's dismissal is most likely the result of high-level in-fighting," Willy Lam, a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

"Bo's chances for the (Politburo appointment) have been adversely affected. It's long-standing 'organisational principle' of the CCP (Communist Party) that a region's No. 1 has to take political responsibility for the misdemeanours of his subordinates."

Sick leave is a term often used as a euphemism for a political purge in China's murky one-party communist system.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment Thursday on Wang's visit to the US consulate, only telling reporters the issue had been resolved "relatively smoothly".

The Chongqing government refused comment on the visit, which came ahead of a planned trip to the United States next week by Xi Jinping, China's vice president and likely successor to President Hu Jintao.

But there was feverish speculation about Wang's motives -- and his current whereabouts -- on China's popular microblogs.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said a government statement on Wang's illness was forwarded online 30,000 times within an hour of being posted, reflecting intense interest in the nation's high-level internal politics.

Even before state media reported Wang's visit to the consulate, the information was widely circulating on microblogs Thursday, a day after Internet censors blocked searches and content containing Wang's name.

Rumours that Wang was seeking political asylum appear to have been stoked by reports that scores of police vehicles descended on the consulate on Tuesday evening.

As Bo's right-hand man, Wang, 52, an ethnic Mongolian, gained national fame while toppling former city deputy police chief Wen Qiang in a massive crime crackdown. Wen was executed in 2010.

Known as a "princeling" due to his father's revolutionary legacy, Bo has encountered opposition from those who are against nepotism and hereditary rights in China's political system.

Bo's crackdown on corruption and organised crime in Chongqing was widely popular, although responses to his campaign to instill "red" or communist-style patriotism in the municipality were mixed.

On Thursday, the Chongqing Daily, the city's official newspaper, championed the crackdown on the mafia, saying nearly 97 percent of the city's residents said they "had a sense of safety" and "no longer feared going out".

"Bo is seen as a Machiavellian figure who is willing to risk anything to achieve his goals," Lam said.

"His high-profile campaign to sing red songs and crack down on triads are regarded as cynical ploys to boost his own political standing."

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Biden meets Chinese activists ahead of VP visit
Washington (AFP) Feb 9, 2012 - US Vice President Joe Biden called for China to reverse a "deterioration" of its human rights record as he met activists ahead of a key visit by his Chinese counterpart, the White House said Thursday.

Biden -- the host for next week's visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped to be the Asian power's next leader -- met jointly Wednesday with four advocates for human rights.

In the meeting, Biden and the activists "discussed the deterioration of China's human rights situation, prospects for reform and recommendations for US policy," a White House statement said.

"The vice president underscored the administration's belief in the universality of human rights and its commitment to human rights as a fundamental part of our foreign policy," it said.

"He reiterated his view that greater openness and protection of universal rights is the best way to promote innovation, prosperity and stability in all countries, including China," it said.

US-based activists widely criticized President Barack Obama's administration when it took office in 2009 for what they saw as a downplaying of human rights concerns as it sought cooperation with China.

The administration has insisted that human rights are a major US priority. Obama held a similar meeting with activists before a state visit last year to Washington by President Hu Jintao.

The White House said Biden met Xiaorong Li, a founder member of the group Human Rights in China who has been outspoken in criticizing the concept promoted by some leaders of "Asian" versus universal values.

Biden also met with Benjamin Liebman, a Columbia University expert on China's legal system, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth and Jianying Zha, an expert on Chinese media and pop culture.

China last year carried out one of its biggest clampdowns on dissent in years, detaining numerous activists amid a wave of protests in the Arab world against authoritarian leaders.

Human rights groups say Chinese authorities recently have put some Tibetan areas under virtual martial law after a series of self-immolations, mostly by monks, to protest rights conditions in the largely Buddhist region.


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Singapore warns US on anti-China rhetoric
Washington (AFP) Feb 8, 2012
Singapore on Wednesday urged the United States to be careful in comments on China, warning that suggestions of a strategy to contain the rising power could cause strife in Asia. On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam voiced confidence that the State Department accepted the need for cooperation with China but said that US domestic politics "resulted in some anti-China rhetori ... read more

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