November 8, 2012 / 11:06 AM / 5 years ago

China city repudiates popular legacy of disgraced Bo Xilai

BEIJING (Reuters) - The leader of the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing sought on Thursday to bury the legacy of its disgraced former top official, Bo Xilai, saying the popular model of development Bo promoted that promised greater equality “did not exist”.

Bo arrived in Chongqing as its Communist Party chief in 2007 and recast it as a bold, egalitarian alternative mode of growth for China known as the “Chongqing model”, pumping money into social housing schemes and infrastructure such as a sleek new subway.

His campaign against crime was also crucial in making him the country’s most prominent provincial-level leader, and a popular one at that.

Bo, once a contender for top leadership in the world’s second-largest economy, was ousted in China’s biggest political scandal in two decades earlier this year following a scandal in which his wife murdered a British businessman, Neil Heywood.

Asked on the sidelines of an on-going, once-in-five-years Communist Party Congress which will usher in a new generation of leaders what the future of Bo’s model was now he was gone, the man who replaced him was unequivocal.

“I think that there is no such thing as the Chongqing model,” interim party boss Zhang Dejiang told reporters.

But this did not mean the government would abandon the city, he insisted.

“The policy of reform and opening up for Chongqing will not change.”

Still, Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan admitted that the scandal had caused foreign and domestic investors to hesitate about putting their money in the city earlier in the year.

“The party and the central government took timely steps and since Zhang came in March we have taken a series of measures, including for ... stable growth and stable investment, which we have carried out in full,” Huang said.

Bo, a former commerce minister, turned the sprawling, haze-covered municipality into a showcase for his mix of populist policies and bold spending plans that won support from leftists yearning for a charismatic leader.

Bo, 63, was widely seen as pursuing a powerful spot on the party’s elite inner core before his career unraveled after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February and alleged that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered Heywood with poison.

Both Wang and Gu have since been jailed and Bo expelled from the party, accused of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the killing.

He has yet to be formally charged, and Zhang said he did not know when he may face trial as it was a “legal question”.

In a new twist in the case, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters this week that Heywood was an informal source of information for Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6.

Zhang said he knew of no such thing.

“To date, I have yet to hear of evidence to prove Heywood was a spy,” he said.

Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan; Editing by Nick Macfie

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