BEIJING (NYTIMES) – All the political stars seemed aligned for Mr Sun Zhengcai to be promoted to a top national post in China at the Communist Party’s congress this autumn.
His most recent high-profile post was party secretary for Chongqing, a vast city of 30 million where he was sent to clean up a government in the aftermath of a corruption and murder scandal.
Last year, President Xi Jinping publicly shook his hand and praised his city.
Then, on July 15, he abruptly vanished.
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Within five days of publicly vowing absolute loyalty to Mr Xi and extolling his “superlative political wisdom”, Mr Sun was dismissed and put under investigation and has since disappeared, his career terminated by the man he had praised.
The sudden fall from grace was taken as a warning that Mr Xi will play succession politics by his own ruthless rules.
“Sun Zhengcai was a sacrificial object to send a message across the party,” said Mr Wu Qiang, a current affairs writer and former political science lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“Xi Jinping has signalled that he doesn’t feel bound by the order of promotion set by the previous generation of leaders.”
The party’s terse public announcement said only that Mr Sun, 53, had been removed as party secretary of Chongqing. It gave no explanation and, ominously, said nothing about his future.
His replacement is Mr Chen Min’er, formerly the secretary of nearby Guizhou province and a protege of Mr Xi.
Mr Sun “was just the wrong guy in the wrong place”, said Dr Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at Boston University who studies Chinese party politics.
“Chen Min’er seems like one of those people Xi is counting on to get things done.”
Three people who are close to senior officials said that before Mr Sun was dismissed, he was put under investigation by the party.
Two of them said an internal party explanation of his removal did not specify allegations but said investigators had found “violations of discipline”, a vague term that might mean political infractions or corruption.
If the inquiry leads to charges, Mr Sun will face punishment, or he may get a minor post or quiet retirement, if he survives the scrutiny.