Malcolm Moore June 20, 2012
Zhang Dejiang … parachuted into sensitive provincial post. Photo: Reuters
BEIJING: The death of British businessman Neil Heywood ''hugely damaged'' China and the Communist Party, according to the new leader of the central city of Chongqing.
Zhang Dejiang, one of China's vice-premiers, was parachuted into Chongqing in mid-March following allegations that Mr Heywood, 41, had been murdered by the wife of the city's former leader Bo Xilai.
The scandal has come at a sensitive time for China, revealing an apparent split at the top of the Communist Party just as it prepares to unveil a new generation of leaders later in the year.
But Mr Zhang said the scandal around Mr Bo and his wife Gu Kailai, the death of Mr Heywood and the flight of Chongqing's police chief, Wang Lijun, to the United States consulate in Chengdu should be ''separated'' from the achievements made in Chongqing under Mr Bo's rule.
''The Wang Lijun incident, Neil Heywood's murder and Bo Xilai's serious violation of discipline has hugely harmed the image of our party and of our country,'' Mr Zhang told a five-yearly congress of party officials in Chongqing. ''We believe that we should separate Chongqing's achievements and the hard work of the people in the last five years from these three incidents and learn from the mistakes by improving our work.''
After an initial flurry of news and rumours, there has been silence on Mr Bo and Mr Heywood for several months.
An investigation into the businessman's death is thought to have been concluded, but senior party leaders may not have decided how to deal with the couple. One businessman in Chongqing, a former mid-ranking city official, said: ''Bo's case is not yet closed and there is still a fierce struggle in the central government. Zhang is being extremely cautious about the words he uses. Bo's power is not yet exhausted.''
A second former Chongqing official said: ''He [Bo] still has support in Beijing and they want to protect him. They are trying to fade the case out. Bo's political career is dead, but they will try to protect him otherwise.''