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Chongqing chief works under cloud left by disgraced predecessor

Chen Min'er doubles down on fealty to Xi to secure political future

Chen Min'er, Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, has regularly criticized disgraced predecessors Sun Zhengcai and Bo Xilai.   © Reuters

CHONGQING, China -- A year after President Xi Jinping's anti-graft dragnet took down onetime potential political rival Sun Zhengcai, the Chinese leader continues to purge disloyal elements from the city Sun once ran.

Chen Min'er, the Communist Party chief of Chongqing, vowed in a July 5 meeting of city officials to expel the "evil influence" and "poison" left behind by disgraced predecessors Sun and Bo Xilai. Sun was sentenced in May to life imprisonment for bribery, while Bo suffered the same fate in 2013.

Although Chen regularly criticizes both Sun and Bo, his language this time stood out for its harshness. Agents from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's top investigative body, had been dispatched to Chongqing between April and June. They uncovered more than 20 documents detailing orders from Sun and Bo to former subordinates.

In November 2016, Sun caught the attention of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the corruption watchdog then headed by Xi's right-hand man Wang Qishan. Sun was stripped of his title in July 2017, marking the first time that the anti-corruption campaign punished a sitting member of the 25-strong Politburo.

The Procuratorate's latest action indicates that Xi is still keeping a close eye on Chongqing, even under protege Chen.

"Xi is afraid of the influence of his onetime rival Bo," said a reporter who works for an offshore Chinese-language newspaper. Observers suspect Sun's fall from grace to have been connected to his role in maintaining Bo's sway over bureaucrats.

In the year since Sun's removal, Chongqing's municipal leadership has undergone an extensive overhaul. Most top officials were replaced, including the mayor.

Bo left behind a contentious legacy: policies that reshaped the city's economic structure to lean heavily on manufacturing personal computers and other information technology equipment. Global PC deliveries have flagged in recent years, and Chongqing's first-quarter gross domestic product growth slowed to 7%.

Chen expressed a desire to develop Chongqing's economy with big data in a January talk with Jack Ma Yun, executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding.

Technology executives including Pony Ma Huateng of Tencent Holdings and Richard Liu Qiangdong of have visited Chongqing over the past year. The city has sought to have such companies invest in development centers there and contribute to growth. The tech bigwigs are believed to be forming closer ties to Chen, who is seen as a sure bet to join the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China's top leadership body.

He Guoqiang, part of the Standing Committee from 2007 to 2012, and Wang Yang, who joined in 2017, were once Chongqing party bosses. But if Chen is to maintain his rising political star, he is sure to keep in mind his two immediate predecessors, who were also expected to make it into the top brass.

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