Chinese censors block New York Times

2012-10-26 10:02
China's Premier Wen Jiabao. (File, AFP)

China's Premier Wen Jiabao. (File, AFP)

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Beijing - Chinese censors blocked online searches related to the New York Times as well as the newspaper's websites on Friday after it published an investigation on the wealth of the Chinese premier's family.

Searches for "New York Times" in Chinese and "NYT" were blocked on the popular social networking website Sina Weibo, which is similar to Twitter, with searches returning a message that the result could not be displayed "due to relevant laws".

The New York Times' official accounts on Sina Weibo and a popular rival, Tencent Weibo, had both been deleted on Friday, with attempts to access the accounts returning the message "this user does not exist".

Searches for premier "Wen Jiabao" were also blocked on both social networking sites, but the names of top Chinese leaders are generally blocked on such sites.

Both Weibo sites also blocked searches using the name of Wen's wife, Zhang Beili, and his son Wen Yunsong.

China's most popular internet search engine, Baidu, displayed a message saying "some results cannot be displayed" in response to searches for the name of Wen and his family.

$2.7bn in assets

While China's 538 million internet users are able to use microblogs to accuse local officials of corruption, posts making reference to China's most powerful politicians are regularly deleted by online censors.

The New York Times launched a Chinese-language website in June, "designed to bring New York Times journalism to China", the company said. The website, and its English equivalent, were inaccessible to ordinary Chinese users on Friday.

The New York Times reported that Wen's family had controlled assets worth $2.7bn according to company and regulatory filings seen by the newspaper from 1992-2012.

The report comes as an embarrassment for Wen, whose public image is of a man of humble origins and a reformer fighting abuses and corruption within the party - a source of widespread anger among ordinary Chinese.

The newspaper said that many relatives of Wen, who will be replaced in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition next month, have become "extraordinarily wealthy" during his time in office.

The investments span banks, jewellers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, with the owners of the assets often concealed by using offshore vehicles or complicated holding structures.

No holdings in Wen's name

The investigation compiled alleged dealings by Wen's son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, as well as his mother.

His mother owned a stake valued at $120m in 2007 in the Ping An insurance giant, which benefited from reforms during Wen's tenure, according to the newspaper.

It gave no figure for the family's net worth now, but calculated the value of the assets they had controlled over the period examined. No holdings were found in Wen's name.

Speculation of a hidden fortune has been circulating for years, fuelled by US embassy documents from 2007 made public by WikiLeaks that alleged influence-peddling by members of Wen's family.

The business of his wife, Zhang Beili, a well-known jewellery and gemstone expert, had become "an off-the-charts success only as her husband moved into the country's top leadership ranks", The Times said.

The investigation comes at a delicate and highly sensitive time ahead of China's power transition starting on 8 November, when successors to Wen and President Hu Jintao will be revealed.

Murder conviction

The lead-up has already been tarnished by the case of disgraced former leader Bo Xilai, who is expected to go on trial after being stripped of his parliamentary seat and legal immunity, according to state media reports on Friday.

The former party boss from the huge southwestern city of Chongqing, once tipped for a top party role, fell from grace after being linked to the murder of a British businessman.

His wife has been convicted of the murder and has been given a suspended death sentence after the city's police chief turned against the couple and detailed their alleged crimes in the US consulate.

In June, an investigation by financial news agency Bloomberg alleged the relatives of the man tipped to be the next Chinese president, Xi Jinping, had also built up a giant portfolio of investments in property and stocks.

Public anger about corruption and cronyism is on the rise in China, fanned by social media that helps spread stories of official wrong-doing despite the best efforts of the country's powerful censors.

China's top disciplinary official said earlier this month that the party had placed investigation of graft allegations as "the main priority of our work".

Fleeing officials

"Corrupt individuals, no matter who they are, will be followed relentlessly and will never escape punishment," He Guoqiang, a member of the nine-man Communist Party committee that runs China, was quoted as saying on 9 October.

The state-run magazine China Newsweek reported this month that as many as 18 000 corrupt government officials have fled the country with $128bn since the mid-1990s.

The number of fleeing officials has risen steadily over the past decade from about 600 in 2003 to over 1 600 last year, with a spike in 2007 to 4 500, the magazine said, citing the national public prosecutor's office.

Read more on:    new york times  |  bo xilai  |  wen jiabao  |  hu jintao  |  china  |  media

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