A senior Chinese politician, whose prospects for Communist Party leadership are under a cloud, on Friday defended himself and his handling of an aide who fled to a U.S. consulate and sparked a political storm that has spilled into China's annual parliament.
Bo Xilai, the telegenic and controversial Communist Party chief of the south-western municipality of Chongqing, told a news conference that he was taken by surprise when the city's Vice Mayor Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. consulate last month.
Wang Lijun is now being investigated by the relevant central agencies, Bo told reporters, who pressed him on the case during a gathering of parliament members from Chongqing.
When the results are concluded, they will be released to everyone, he added.
China's leaders have assembled in Beijing for the annual National People's Congress session, but their traditional show of unity has been unsettled this year by speculation over whether Bo will be denied a spot in the next central leadership to be settled at the 18th Party Congress late this year.
Bo's hopes for climbing from riverside Chongqing into the Communist Party's central Standing Committee took a blow when Wang fled to the consulate. Wang left the consulate after more than a day inside, led away by officials.
In his first media grilling since Wang fled, Bo defended his policies that have made Chongqing a controversial bastion of traditional red socialist culture and egalitarian economic development. And he repeatedly played down questions about whether Wang's downfall could also bring him down.
For myself, speaking from my heart, I've never associated myself with anything specific about the 18th Congress, Bo told a throng of reporters, when asked about his ambitions.
The 18th Congress will see China's biggest leadership transition in nearly a decade.
Wang's case has been widely discussed in China on Twitter-like micro blogging sites, though most state-controlled papers have remained largely silent on the issue and Chinese reporters covering parliament say they have been told not to bring it up.
Wang was a key figure in an anti-organised crime drive pursued by Bo, 62, who has encouraged a revival of socialist culture from the time of Mao Zedong, while seeking to transform Chongqing's economy into a model of more equal growth.
But Bo played down Wang's role in the anti-crime drive and denied he had been interrogated about the case by investigators.
I truly never expected this to happen. I felt it was extremely sudden, he said of Wang's flight to the consulate.
Bo, who usually exudes the brio of game show host, looked tired and occasionally drowsy at the meeting in a room of China's parliament building, the Great Hall of the People.
He waved off questions about his own prospects, grimacing and rolling his eyes at repeated questions about the case.
That's totally a rumour, totally imaginary. There's no such thing as a resignation, he said, when asked whether he had offered to step down.
Bo's father, Bo Yibo, was a revolutionary comrade of Mao Zedong, making his son one of the princelings - sons and daughters of the Communist Party's elite.
(Editing by Michael Perry)