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News/Commentary: “Chongqing curse?” Party chief Sun Zhengcai out, déjà vu, Bo Xilai 2?

Sun Zhengcai, former Chongqing Party chief. Source: Baidu screenshot.By Wen Liu   Oct. 7, 2017

As sister cities since 1983, Seattle and Chongqing, China, have shared a lot over the years, business, education and cultural exchanges, not to say the construction of the Seattle Chinese Garden. Well, this year, they share something else in common: each city seeing its top official ousted.

Mayor Ed Murray resigned over allegations of sexual molestation and child abuse by five individual citizens. A big embarrassment maybe, his leaving office did not have much significance in Washington state or national politics.

That, however, was not the case of Sun Zhengcai (孙政才), Communist Party chief of Chongqing until last July, as the Wall Street Journal reported. Sun was removed, not out of any accusations of Chongqing citizens, but by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Sun was soon placed under a two-month investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

On Sept. 29, after approving the Commission’s “Report on the Investigation of Sun Zhengcai’s Serious Violation of Party Disciplines,” the Politburo, as reported in the People's Daily, announced Sun’s punishment, a “double expulsions:” expulsion from the Communist Party and expulsion from public office. Sun has now reportedly been handed over to judicial authorities, facing possible criminal prosecution.

People's Daily headline on Sun's 'Double Expulsions.' Screennshot.Sun’s removal just ahead of the upcoming 19th Party Congress scheduled for Oct. 18 mirrors his predecessor Bo Xilai’s before the 18th Party Congress in 2012, the year Xi Jinping became China’s president and the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Déjà vu, indeed.

Besides the fashion of their removal, Sun’s alleged violations of Party discipline, such as accepting bribes, misusing his powers to enrich his relatives, etc., are also similar to those of Bo Xilai’s: bribery, abuse of power, and embezzlement. In addition, as the South China Morning Post reported, Sun was accused of not having completely rooted out the “pernicious ideology legacy” left by Bo Xilai.

What more importantly sets Sun Zhengcai’s ouster apart from that of Ed Murray’s, for instance, and parallels that of Bo Xilai’s, is its significance in China’s national politics, or the politics of the omnipotent and omnipresent Xi Jinping.

Just like Bo Xilai, Sun Zhengcai was a member of, and the youngest at 54, of the 25-person Politburo and a strong candidate for the top-decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. The difference being that Bo had been a potential rival of Xi Jinping while Sun was once seen as a successor to Xi Jinping.

Chen Min-er, new Chongqing Party chief. Source: Baidu screenshot.Since Sun’s removal in July, Chongqing has had a new Party chief in Chen Min’er (陈敏尔), the new rising political star and the former Communist Party Secretary of Guizhou. Chen is now expected to enter the Politburo, and with a shot at the Standing Committee, just as Sun Zhengcai would have, and Bo Xilai before him.

But, with some in the media talking about a “Chongqing curse,” would we see this movie again, in five years?

Compared with China’s, or rather the Communist Party’s, murky, smoggy and behind-the-door politics, American politics, not to say Seattle’s, feels so open book and open air, even with disappointing politicians.

Anyway, with this repeat of a political saga in Chongqing, those in the Seattle-Chongqing friendship circle and Seattle’s next mayor would surely appreciate more this giant sister city Chongqing, its weight in China’s politics, in addition to the economy.

(For more information on major events in Washington state-China relations, go to WA China Chronicle.)