Frenzied Hours for U.S. on Fate of a China Insider
On the evening of Feb. 6, a vice mayor of a major Chinese city who had a reputation as a crime fighter turned up at the American Consulate in Chengdu in an agitated state, telling a tale of corruption and murder that has ensnared the Obama administration in a scandal it wants nothing to do with.
The official, Wang Lijun, sought asylum, fearing for his life even as Chinese security forces quickly surrounded the building and asked the American diplomats inside to turn him over.
Instead, after a frantic debate that reached the White House, Mr. Wang stayed until he could arrange for an official from a Beijing ministry to come 36 hours later and escort him past the local security cordon. The authorities from Beijing took him into custody, and he is now under investigation for divulging internal Chinese affairs to the Americans. If charged with and convicted of treason, he could face a death sentence.
The information Mr. Wang possessed involved Bo Xilai, who was the Communist Party chief in Chongqing until last month and Mr. Wang’s onetime patron before a falling-out led Mr. Wang to seek refuge in the consulate, according to administration officials, Congressional aides, diplomats and others briefed on what had happened.
According to the officials’ version, the American diplomats who oversaw his brief, bizarre stay pre-empted any formal application for asylum because of the difficulties of spiriting him out of the country and questions about his eligibility. Instead, they said, the State Department shielded him from almost certain arrest by police officers loyal to Mr. Bo and ensured he could make his accusations in Beijing.
Those charges brought down Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is now under investigation in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and involved the United States and Britain in the biggest scandal facing China’s leadership in a generation.
“He was not tossed out,” a senior administration official said, referring to Mr. Wang.
Some Republicans in Congress question, however, whether the Obama administration mishandled Mr. Wang’s case and left him to the mercy of the Chinese authorities when he had sought to pass along explosive information that affected a power struggle at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.