Feature

China takes on The New York Times

In a well-researched exposé, The New York Times has revealed what a massive fortune the family of outgoing Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao controls.

The Chinese authorities are running scared, said Angus Grigg in the Australian Financial Review. In a well-researched exposé, The New York Times has revealed what a massive fortune the family of outgoing Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao controls. The article lays bare the Wen family’s shares of banks, jewelers, tourist resorts, telecom companies, and Ping An Insurance, one of the world’s biggest financial firms. In all, the investment empire totals some $2.7 billion spread among companies owned by Wen’s children, his wife, and her family. The revelations are especially damaging because Wen has a reputation for being “unassuming and modest” and has often “railed against corruption.” Beijing quickly cut off Chinese access to both the English- and the new Chinese-language versions of the Times and blocked all searches about Wen on social-networking sites. Then, in a rare public statement, the Wen family denounced the report as untrue, while failing “to highlight a single inaccuracy.”

The New York Times has a reputation for manufacturing lies and smears, said the People’s Daily (Beijing) in an editorial. Less than a decade ago, one of its top reporters, Jayson Blair, was found to have committed “frequent acts of journalistic fraud.” And that’s just one example of the “plagiarism and fake news” the newspaper prints. Readers should be skeptical of its spurious claims.

Talk about blaming the messenger, said the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). “How long can the government cover up its failure to confront a potentially explosive issue by blocking overseas websites?” Bloomberg.com, too, has been blocked since the summer, when it reported on the assets of incoming president Xi Jinping. Rumors have swirled for years about the party elite’s wealth. “The longer the issue is allowed to fester, the harder it will be to bring it out into the open.” That’s why this newspaper reprinted the Times story. China’s leaders “should muster the political courage to lift the veil of secrecy.”

These revelations play into a high-stakes power struggle in Chinese politics, said Mark MacKinnon in The Globe and Mail (Canada). The exposé comes shortly after former rising star Bo Xilai was put on trial and just weeks before China’s once-a-decade leadership transition. The outcome of that party congress is still in doubt, with allies of Wen jostling for power against those once aligned with Bo. Bo’s allies “may have aided or encouraged the investigation” into Wen’s finances, a prospect that highlights “the bottomless can of worms the ruling party has opened by purging one of its own.”

This report has laid bare the truth, said Mark Baker in The Age (Australia). China is not a communist country, but “a totalitarian state run by a capitalist collective.” When the party leadership’s sole guiding ideology is self-enrichment, change at the top is simply “a matter of one bunch of kleptocrats passing the golden baton to the next.”

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