Updated Oct. 27 5:25 a.m.
A lengthy exposé by The New York Times detailing the wealth of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family has sparked controversy over the origins of the report, its accuracy, and uses to which it may be put. At issue is whether the story was planted to advance the political interests of the faction of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai, or whether the story is the product of the NY Times’ own research, done without regard for political consequences inside China.
On Oct. 25, The New York Times published a 4,700-word report that describes the vast wealth amassed by members of Premier Wen Jiabao’s family—said to total US$2.7 billion—and how Wen’s family members traded on his name and influence to make the deals that made that fortune.
Boxun, a Chinese-language news website based outside of China, anticipated the NY Times report in an article published on Oct. 23, Beijing time, describing how information that sounds very similar to what would soon appear in The New York Times had been widely shopped to Chinese and English-language media by a “conservative faction.”
Boxun wrote, “a number of American mainstream English-language media have also received a lot of detailed material” about Wen Jiabao. That information was part of an ongoing effort by a “conservative faction” to attack its opponents in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to Boxun.
In an Oct. 26 broadcast, Voice of America quoted Beijing reporter Dong Fang as saying that all of the media had received the same information on Wen as was published by the NY Times. The information came with audited material according to Dong.
The publisher of an independent Chinese-language news website, speaking anonymously said in a phone interview that whenever Korean, Japanese, or Western media publish detailed reports about the secrets of CCP officials, “The reports are fed to them. These media can never develop this kind of information on their own.”
Around 10:30 p.m. ET Oct. 26, the NY Times published an article in which David Barboza, the author of the piece on the Wen family’s wealth, explained how he got the information.
According to Barboza, most corporate and financial records are publicly available to news organizations in China, and “beginning late last year, The Times reviewed documents obtained in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and other cities.
“The records allowed The Times to trace a network of friends and relatives of the prime minister as they built a multibillion-dollar business empire over the last decade, often with the aid of wealthy entrepreneurs.”
A $2.2 Billion Disagreement
Since The Times article about Wen’s family was published, two articles have called into question the account it gives of the wealth the family is said to have acquired.
The New York-based Chinese-language website Mingjing interviewed Ms. Duan Weihong, who features prominently in The Times report. Duan is identified as the conduit for the Wen family acquiring stock in Ping An Insurance Company, stock that would grow to be worth US$2.2 billion.
The Mingjing article confirms the NY Times did research for its article on Wen’s family—Duan spoke with Mingjing of being interviewed by the NY Times. In the interview with Mingjing, Duan emphasized that she told the NY Times that the stock shares in the name of members of the Wen family were in fact owned by her, which the NY Times reported.
The NY Times and the Mingjing accounts differ over the current ownership of the stock shares. The Times reports the company’s records were no longer public after 2008, but assumes the Wen family gained US$2.2 billion in wealth from the stock.
Duan told Mingjing News that after 2008, all shareholders left her company, and all the shares were put under her name. “But the New York Times reporter didn’t take note of my words at all,” she told Mingjing.
Mingjing commented, “If this is true, not a dime from the US$2.2 billion in stocks went into the accounts of Wen’s relatives.”
In an article published on Oct. 27 Beijing time, Boxun also takes a look at the Duan-Wen connection.
According to Boxun’s Beijing reporter, Wen’s family members held stock in Ping An between 2004 and 2005, when Duan used their IDs to purchase the shares.
According to Boxun, Ping An became a listed company in 2008, and Wen’s relatives had all left the company by then. Ping An started becoming profitable in 2009. Duan has kept records that prove her account, according to Boxun.
Boxun claims the NY Times cannot prove that Wen’s relatives made US$2.2 billion in profits on the Ping An stock. Boxun asks, if the Wen family did not make the US$2.2 billion the NY Times claimed, what about the other US$.5 billion, of the US$2.7 billion Wen’s family is said to have acquired?
The NY Times article about Wen’s family touched a nerve in Beijing—the paper’s website was immediately blocked in China.
On Friday in Beijing, according to Voice of America, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei condemned the NY Times article as having an agenda, telling reporters that it was meant to “smear China” and had “ulterior motives.”
The NY Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, responded to the criticism by saying that the paper refused to compromise its journalistic standards and would not adjust its reporting “based on the demands of the Chinese government,” according to VOA’s report.
The Times article acknowledges political agendas may be served by it. An anonymous former colleague of Wen’s is quoted as saying, “His enemies are intentionally trying to smear him by letting this leak out.”
The Times also reports that the news about the Wen family’s wealth may weaken Wen politically in advance of the crucial 18th Party Congress. At that Congress, set to convene on Nov. 8, a new generation of CCP leaders will be named.
The former head of China affairs for the currently-out-of-power DPP Party in Taiwan, Dong Li-wen, is quoted by Radio France Internationale as saying the NY Times article “is directly related to the power struggle ahead of the 18th Party Congress. Wen Jiabao has long maintained a tough political stance, and this article may be retaliation for Wen supporting or opposing certain Politburo members. His opponents might have leaked the information to foreign media.”
Boxun wrote of “heavyweight information” about Wen’s family distributed by a conservative faction that uses “long-term careful planning and comprehensive materials obtained by personnel in government departments” in orchestrating attacks on its opponents.
Boxun mentioned as a previous example an article in June by Bloomberg that talked about the wealth of the family of the presumptive next head of the CCP, Xi Jinping, who is considered an enemy by the conservative faction.
Bloomberg’s article relied on a massive amount of material, including over 1,000 pages about Xi’s family and their companies, all collated, including even copies of these people’s identity cards and photos of their residences, according to Boxun.
The material circulated about Wen Jiabao was said to be similarly thorough. According to Boxun, the information was “exhaustive” in its detail and included “information on Wen’s son Wen Yunsong’s business dealings, including even the monthly bulletins.”
“From this it can be seen that if there were no people in the state apparatus helping collect this material, it would be impossible to get this kind of highly confidential information,” Boxun wrote.
Boxun said the conservative faction sought to achieve “the effect of a stereoscopic assault.” In the cases of the attack on Xi Jinping in June and the current attack on Wen Jiabao, the information used was circulated to both English-language and Chinese-language media in the hopes of getting simultaneous coverage in both.
Ongoing Information War
Boxun places the information circulated about Wen Jiabao’s family in the context of ongoing attempts by the now disgraced former Party heavyweight Bo Xilai and others to use “large resources and manpower to continually launch media attacks on Wen Jiabao and his family members in the past few years.”
An information war being waged as part of the power struggle going on in China has been reported on by others, including The Epoch Times.
According to an article published by Hong Kong’s Open Magazine in May, when Bo Xilai’s former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun attempted to defect at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February, among the items he brought with him were documents detailing orders Bo Xilai gave to attack top leaders, including Wen Jiabao, by spreading information online.
The Epoch Times published an exclusive report in April that described how Bo Xilai and the domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang worked in 2009 and 2010 with the Chinese search engine Baidu to drive Google out of China.
Based on information provided by a high-ranking government official in Beijing, the article described how Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang did this in order to use Baidu to attack their opponents.
According to investigative reports by the CCP’s Committee for Disciplinary Inspection, Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang came up with a “very detailed plan to achieve a powerful online campaign against [CCP head] Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Xi Jinping.”
Articles published in 2010 on Baidu as a result of Bo and Zhou’s efforts had titles such as “Hu Jintao’s Son Terribly Corrupt, Jiang Zemin Wants to Get to the Bottom of It,” and “Xi Jinping is a Lecher, Plays With Women in Zhejiang Behind His Second Wife.”
A more recent example of this kind of manipulation of the media occurred this past August, when Chinese-language media outside China and Western media carried stories claiming that Hu Jintao was planning on resigning from the Central Military Commission. According to an Epoch Times source, these stories were planted by domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang, a member of the faction formed by former CCP head Jiang Zemin.
Rumors of Hu Jintao “resigning completely” could degrade his power inside the CCP, and he was forced to have former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa deny them in an interview he gave to CNN on Sept. 19.
Boxun emphasized the role of Bo Xilai and an unspecified “conservative faction” in arranging for the distribution to media of the information about the wealth of Wen Jiabao’s family. How Bo could have had any recent, direct involvement is not clear. He is currently in Qincheng Prison in Beijing.
Bo Xilai is very closely identified with Jiang Zemin’s faction. When Jiang began his campaign in July 1999 to eradicate the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, Bo enthusiastically implemented the persecution.
The Epoch Times has reported previously how Jiang’s faction, which has lost its hold on power, is now seeking to avoid being held accountable for the atrocities committed during the still ongoing persecution of Falun Gong, leading to a continuing power struggle.
According to Boxun, “behind the scenes, the conservative faction is manipulating things.”
With research by Jane Lin and Matthew Robertson.
Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing to participate in the persecution any longer. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.