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LinkAsia | Sep 25
Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes ranging from defection to bribe-t...
A few days ago, Chinese social media began swarming with rumors about an incident at the US consulate in Chengdu. The consulate was surrounded by police. And the rumor was that Chongqing's vice mayor and former police chief, Wang Lijun, had gone to the consulate to request political asylum. Beijing contributor Charlie Custer tells us what's going on, or at least what people think is going on.
Whether Wang tried to defect remains unclear, but speculation about him began in February, when he was suddenly demoted from crime fighter to environmental watchdog. That speculation reached fever pitch when the Chongqing government announced that Wang was sick and would be leaving his post for "vacation-style medical treatment." For its part, the US admitted Wang paid the consulate a visit, but would not say why. He did, according to the state department, leave of his own volition. News of Wang's so-called medical leave has been reposted tens of thousands of times on Sina Weibo and has attracted hundreds of thousands of comments.
"Wang Lijun tried to report on Bo Xilai but failed, so he fled to the US consulate but was handed over to the emperor," wrote one commenter. The emperor refers to the central government. Bo Xilai is Wang's boss, competing for a high-level job in China's upcoming leadership transition. Net users are also mocking the phrase "vacation-style medical treatment," which many interpret as a euphemism for being arrested. One popular Weibo post read like this: "If you're a commoner, you might get 'mentally ill'; if you're a government official, you might get put on 'vacation-style medical treatment' like Mr. Wang. If you're a commoner, you'll be hide-and-seeked; if you're an official, you'll be suicided. What's the difference between commoners and officials?" Mental illness, hide and seek, and suicide are all official excuses the government has used to explain suspicious deaths and disappearances.
Another commenter responded: "In a society without freedom, no one is free. Those who are arrested aren't free, and those doing the arresting aren't free either."
Wang Lijun's cell phone is switched off, and reporters have been unable to get in touch with him. But in the absence of other information, most netizens are convinced he's in serious trouble. Interestingly, in spite of the government's campaign against internet rumors, the discussion on Sina Weibo has gone on relatively uninterrupted. Searches for Wang's name being were blocked only briefly before being opened up again. Wang's name, with a slight misspelling, has been allowed onto the trending topics list, as has the phrase "vacation-style medical treatment." The rumors, whether they're true or not, are a black eye for Wang's boss, the ambitious Bo Xilai, who's gunning for a major promotion this year. If Wang did attempt to defect, this could severely hurt Bo's chances. But with the US government not commenting, the Chinese government announcing Wang's "vacation-style medical treatment," and Wang himself not answering his phone, it's unclear exactly what is going on just yet. For LinkAsia, I'm Charlie Custer in Beijing.