Chonqing Vice Mayor Wang Lijun (王立军)
Unsubstantiated rumors of defection have been burning up the internet all day involving the popular anti-gang Vice Mayor of Chongqing, Wang Lijun (王立军). Last night Weibo users reported that police cars had surrounded the US consulate in Chengdu. Combine that with the announcement this morning that Wang has been put on “vacation-style” medical leave and voila, you have a solid gold rumor generator!
The Guardian has more:
Wang Lijun became famous for spearheading the anti-gang crackdown in nearby Chongqing, launched by the city’s powerful party secretary Bo Xilai, who is tipped by many for promotion this autumn. But the police chief was reshuffled last week, to widespread surprise.
“According to information, because of long-term overwork, vice mayor Wang Lijun is highly stressed and in poor health. He is now accepting vacation-style treatment,” Chongqing’s information office posted in a message on its microblog account on Wednesday.
Statements of that kind are extremely rare in China. This one – retweeted tens of thousands of times by microblog users – came hours after large numbers of police surrounded the US consulate in Chengdu on Tuesday evening, blocking off roads around the building.
The term “vacation-style treatment” (休假式治疗) immediately became one of the first big internet memes of 2012, and has already been used in thousands of jokes and commentary posts across Weibo.
What’s surprising is that we still can give you very little info about what has actually happened to Wang, despite the massive media attention for almost 24 hours. Also we should note that the defection rumors were largely propagated by Boxun, an overseas Chinese news site that allows users to post news anonymously.
If you’re surprised how much attention this is getting, you shouldn’t be. Wang has long been a close colleague of Bo Xilai, Chongqing’s party chief and CCP darling largely expected to make big moves upwards in the coming year’s political transition. Doesn’t take a political genius to understand what rumors of defection by an underling can do to his image.
Furthermore, the rumors of Wang seeking political asylum come as Xi Jinping prepares to visit the States. ChinaGeeks has an excellent roundup of the potential implications surrounding the event, domestically and abroad. As far as the US goes:
On the international side, the implications of a high-level official defecting or attempting to defect just before soon-to-be-president Xi Jinping makes his visit to the US could be huge. If the US were to grant Wang asylum, that would be….well, awkward probably doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Then again, a high-level official like Wang might be just the sort of person the US is willing to take that risk for. But it’s an awfully big risk, and the diplomatic fallout if the US granted Wang asylum would be massive. Still, if word of the incident gets out — and it certainly seems that’s happening — rejecting Wang’s application would be a PR loss internationally.
The US embassy in Beijing has denied that they experienced any elevated threat level last night, and a spokesperson refused to comment on the rumored political asylum. From Reuters:
The consulate referred questions to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where spokesman Richard Buangan told Reuters he was “not in a position to comment regarding reported requests for asylum.”
“I can tell you there was no threat to the (Chengdu) consulate yesterday, and the U.S. government did not request increased security around the compound,” said Buangan.
Pictures from Weibo of police gathered outside the Chengdu US consulate last night: