BEIJING • The Chinese Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog has launched a probe into a Politburo member who was once seen as a contender for a top leadership post, state media confirmed yesterday.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Mr Sun Zhengcai, who until a week ago was party chief in the major city of Chongqing, for "serious discipline violation", Xinhua news agency said, an euphemism for graft.
Mr Sun, 53, is the first serving member of the 25-person Politburo to be placed under investigation since Bo Xilai, who was jailed for life in 2013 in the wake of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.
Xinhua's brief report did not say whether Mr Sun would remain a Politburo member. His replacement as party chief in Chongqing was announced on July 15.
The shake-up in Chongqing comes as the Communist Party prepares for a congress later this year that is expected to cement Mr Xi's position as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation. Mr Sun, who was replaced in the city by Mr Xi's former aide Chen Min'er, had once been tipped as a contender for promotion to the Politburo's elite seven-member standing committee, the nation's top political body.
Bo was also once the party chief in Chongqing, the country's fourth- largest city and an industrial metropolis in the south-west of China. He was rumoured to be part of a network plotting to stop Mr Xi from assuming control of the party in 2012, and Mr Sun was tasked with erasing Bo's influence on the city.
But in February, party discipline inspectors publicly rebuked Mr Sun for failing to get the job done, leaving his future in question. Shortly after replacing Mr Sun, Mr Chen was quoted as saying by a local daily that the city must "resolutely remove the bad impact" of Bo's case.
Mr Sun's downfall has raised Mr Chen's profile. Mr Chen first worked with Mr Xi in 2002, when the latter became party chief of the eastern province of Zhejiang.
In late 2012, the former propaganda chief's career kicked into overdrive following Mr Xi's ascension to the head of the Communist Party. Mr Chen became governor of the south-western province of Guizhou in 2013, adding the title of party secretary in 2015.
Mr Sun's 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," he added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES