The appointment of a new police chief in the south-western municipality of Chongqing, in the wake of a political scandal that has cast doubt on the future of one of China's rising political stars, reflected the growing influence of a powerful party faction ahead of this year's leadership transition, analysts said.

The new police chief, Guan Haixiang, replaced Wang Lijun, who earlier this month appeared at the United States Consulate in Chengdu — reportedly seeking asylum — after falling out with his former boss, the Chongqing party chief and Politburo member Bo Xilai. According to reports, Mr. Wang, who rose to national prominence following a corruption crackdown that brought down more than 1,500 officials, was himself the subject of an investigation by central authorities.

Political background

The political background of his successor, Mr. Guan, has stirred debate among analysts here. With no prior experience in running the police — or public security bureau, as termed here — in any capacity, he headed to China's biggest municipality after having spent 15 years working for the Communist Youth League of China (CYL), a body where young officials receive political training and forge connections as they rise through party ranks.

President Hu Jintao himself spent three years working for the CYL in the early 1980s. Mr. Guan served at the CYL during the same time as Vice Premier Li Keqiang, and according to reports in the media worked as his secretary. Several media reports also said Mr. Guan was the son-in-law of State Councillor Liu Yandong, who spent a decade at the CYL.

“His appointment shows Beijing is directly involved in handling the Chongqing episode,” said one senior Chinese journalist who did not want to be named considering the sensitivity of the issue.

Under Mr. Hu's term, analysts said, an increasing number of CYL officials were occupying high positions in the government.

In the once-in-a-decade leadership transition that has begun this year and will see Mr. Hu step down, at least of six of 13 newly-appointed provincial heads have formerly served as CYL members, according to a State media report.

Reports on Monday suggested that another former CYL member, party chief in Hunan Zhou Qiang was being considered a candidate to take Mr. Bo's position in Chongqing. Mr. Guan also served alongside Mr. Zhou at the youth league.

Mr. Bo's future has been cast in doubt over the Wang Lijun case, underscored by his notable absence from local newspapers in Chongqing last week.

In recent days however, the charismatic Chongqing party chief, who acquired nationwide attention following his corruption crackdown and attempts to revive Mao-inspired “Red culture”, has begun to reappear in the local media, suggesting his fate was still undecided.

Up until last week, Mr. Bo, who along with Vice-President and heir-apparent Xi Jinping hails from a group of influential children of former leaders, known in China as the “princelings”,

was widely tipped as a frontrunner for a seat on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee that will take office next year.

Competing groups

Ahead of the transition, analysts said, competing groups, such as those from the CYL, were putting their candidates forward for seats of power, leaving unclear how much influence Mr. Xi will ultimately wield when he succeeds Mr. Hu Jintao.

On Monday, the Chongqing Daily reported on Mr. Bo's meeting with a visiting official from Vietnam's Communist Party. Hinting at the Wang Lijun episode, Mr. Bo spoke of the importance of leaders staying clean — even if they were surrounded by corrupt officials.

“Bo is keenly aware of all the political rumours pointing to the close link between Wang and himself, and his message is simple and clear: ‘I am innocent',” Zhang Ming, a professor of politics at Renmin University, told the South China Morning Post .

  • Chongqing appointment stirs debate

  • Beijing directly involved in handling the episode