Editor's note: This is the 18th of a series on Bo Xilai. This series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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CHONGQING, China--On Jan. 28, Bo Xilai, mayor of Chongqing, burst into a fit of anger and slapped one of his closest aides in an office of the Communist Party’s municipal committee.
The aide who incurred Bo’s wrath, Wang Lijun, was public security chief of Jinzhou, a city in Liaoning province, when he was handpicked by Bo to be vice mayor of Chongqing, one of the national central cities, with a population of 30 million.
The scene of Bo’s outburst of anger at Wang was described by a relative of a former minister-level party member.
Two months before, in November 2011, one incident took place that set in motion a chain of events leading to the collapse of the long-standing alliance between the two.
The dead body of a white male was discovered in a cottage of a resort hotel in the Nan’an district in Chongqing. The man was identified as British businessman Neil Heywood.
Local police announced that Heywood had died of “excessive alcohol consumption” and cremated his body.
Xia Deling, then party chief of the district, was serving as a senior party official in the countryside when he was promoted to the post in the city--a rare case--because he was favored by Bo.
But Heywood was not known as a heavy drinker.
The city’s public security authorities suspected foul play and launched an investigation into the possible murder case.
The person who emerged as a prime suspect was Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, who had close ties to Heywood.
Wang infuriated Bo by telling him that his wife was under suspicion for murdering the Briton.
When he was slapped in the face by Bo, Wang abruptly said, “I know how to deal with the matter, so trust me on this,” and immediately left the room, according to senior party officials.
But Bo apparently didn’t trust Wang. Wang’s subordinates who were investigating Gu in connection with Heywood’s death were detained one after another.
On Feb. 1, Wang, who was still vice mayor of Chongqing, was stripped of his post as Chongqing's police chief.
Wang knew all too well what could happen to people who have provoked Bo’s ire. Wang, as Bo’s right-hand man, sent many people to jail during the mayor’s “dahei,” or crackdown on what he described as organized gangs.
On Feb. 6, Wang drove to Chengdu, a major city in Sichuan province that is some 300 kilometers from Chongqing, and fled into the U.S. Consulate General there.
But the United States refused to grant Wang asylum, apparently out of fear of straining relations with China just before it was visited by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely believed will succeed President Hu Jintao as the nation’s top leader in the expected leadership transition in autumn.
After spending a night at the U.S. Consulate General, Wang was taken to Beijing by Qiu Jin, vice minister of the Ministry of State Security.
Wang’s bold dash for asylum must have shocked China’s leadership. Chinese leaders were worried about the possibility that Wang had provided the U.S. government with evidence implicating Gu in the murder of the British businessman.
On Feb. 16, after Xi’s visit to the United States, Hu convened a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s supreme decision-making body.
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