Keith B. Richburg
Dec 31, 2012
BEIJING — Chinese citizens were treated this year to an unaccustomed number of hard-hitting exposés and investigations detailing the private lives and corrupt financial dealings of the most senior Communist Party officials and their family members.
Most of the reports have come from what one media expert here called “the two W’s,” meaning Western media and weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
So far, the Chinese government’s response to this growing onslaught of negative publicity has been scattered and sometimes surprisingly restrained. The reaction reflects what many analysts called Chinese authorities’ more sophisticated strategy for handling adverse publicity, and a recognition that any overreaction might simply draw new and unwanted attention.
Bloomberg News found its Web site blockedin China after a June story detailing the multimillion-dollar financial holdings by family members of Xi Jinping, who became Communist Party general secretary in November and will take over as president next year. Likewise, after the New York Times reported in October on the $2.7 billion fortune amassed by close relatives of outgoing prime minister Wen Jiabao, its Web site and its new Chinese-language site have been blocked here.
Other Western news organizations, such as Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, have aggressively pursued corruption and other lurid allegations against deposed former Politburo member Bo Xilai, whose wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murdering a British businessman.
So far, no reporter for a major Western media organization has been expelled from China for coverage of the various scandals. Melissa Chan, an American correspondent for Al Jazeera English, was expelled in May, but the Chinese government gave no reason, and hers was China’s first expulsion of a foreign journalist in 14 years.
“It’s really difficult for them to target individual reporters,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a longtime analyst of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This corruption and enrichment of families has become endemic. It’s difficult for them to issue denials. If they target individual reporters, or take legal action, this will just draw more attention.
After the New York Times story appeared detailing the $2.7 billion amassed by Wen’s relatives, including his aging mother, son, daughter, brother and brother-in-law, lawyers claiming to represent Wen’s family sent a statement to two Hong Kong newspapers denying there were any “hidden riches” and hinting at legal action against the Times. But so far, no action has been taken.