The New York Times said Chinese censors wasted no time blocking Internet access on Friday after it published a hard-hitting report about China’s prime minister and his family stealthily accumulating billions of dollars.
The newspaper said its detailed and extensive report about prime minister Wen Jiabao and his family's control of assets worth at least $2.7 billion was published on Thursday in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version, The New York Times reports.
By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Web sites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested.
But the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing Friday told reporters that there was a reason for that: the report had "ulterior motives," The BBC reports.
"China manages the internet in accordance with laws and rules," Hong told reporters at a daily news briefing when asked why the newspaper's main site and Chinese-language site were also blocking attempts to mention such keywords "The New York Times" or the prime minister, "Wen Jiabao," in posts on Sina Weibo, an extremely popular mini-blogging service in China that resembles Twitter.
One user that did make it through was removed 11 minutes later, the BBC says.
"Some reports smear China and have ulterior motives," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about the story in the daily briefing. On the blocking, he said the internet was managed "in accordance with laws".
When they get mad, they block you
Indeed, according to The Times, China maintains the world’s most extensive and sophisticated system for Internet censorship, employing tens of thousands of people to monitor what is said, delete entries that contravene the country’s extensive and unpublished regulations and even write new entries that are favorable to the government.
Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow specializing in Internet free expression and privacy issues at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan group headquartered in Washington, said that the Chinese interruption of Internet access was typical of the response to information that offended leaders.
“This is what they do: they get mad, they block you,” she told the Times.
And that's apparently what happened.
'Billions in Riches for Family of Chinese leader.'
Drawing on company and regulatory filings, the Times'
article "Billions in Riches for Family of Chinese leader," said that several close relatives of the premier had become extremely wealthy since he rose to top leadership, but that many of the holdings have been masked by layers of partnerships and business relationships.
In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China's fast-growing economy.
The Times' Shanghai bureau chief found many of Wen's close relatives including his wife and son "have become extraordinarily wealthy" during his tenure, accumulating shares in banks, jewelers, real estate and telecom companies over which Wen has broad authority and that the "relatives have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion."
Unlike most new businesses in China, the family's ventures sometimes received financial backing from state-owned companies, including China Mobile, one of the country's biggest phone operators, the documents show. At other times, the ventures won support from some of Asia's richest tycoons, Detroit Free Press writes.
The Times found that Wen's, who has been described in the state media as "the People's Premier" and "Grandpa Wen," 90-year-old mother, Yang Zhiyun, a retired schoolteacher, had a single investment in her name worth $120 million five years ago.
Times' statement to China
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The Times, expressed disappointment that Internet access had been blocked and noted that the Chinese-language Web site had attracted “great interest” in China.
“We hope that full access is restored shortly, and we will ask the Chinese authorities to ensure that our readers in China can continue to enjoy New York Times journalism,” she said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to report and translate stories applying the same journalistic standards that are upheld across The New York Times.”
The paper of record is no stranger to China's censorship. Former President Jiang Zemin of China ordered an end to blocking of The New York Times Web site after meeting with journalists from The Times in August 2001. The company’s Web sites, like those of most other foreign media organizations, have remained mostly free of blocking since then, with occasional, temporary exceptions, said the Times.
The Times’s statement called China “an increasingly open society, with increasingly sophisticated media,” adding, “The response to our site suggests that The Times can play an important role in the government’s efforts to raise the quality of journalism available to the Chinese people.”
The Times isn't alone
The New York Times is not the first international organization to run into trouble with Chinese censors.
Google decided to move its servers for the Chinese market in January 2010, to Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory outside the country’s censorship firewalls, after the company was unable to reach an agreement with the Chinese authorities to allow unrestricted searches of the Internet.
When, on June 29 2012, Bloomberg published an investigative report describing wealth accumulated by the family of Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to become the country’s next top leader, the company's website was blocked in China - even though the report said there was no indication of wrongdoing by him or his family.
Since then, Bloomberg’s operations have encountered a series of problems in mainland China, including the blocking of its Web site, which is in English.
China has also blocked the BBC World News channel when asked about The New York Times' story. Chinese censors blocked the BBC News website later on Friday.
Publication of the article about Wen and his family comes at a delicate time in Chinese politics,
right ahead of next month's Chinese Communist Party's annual congress, which will also mark the country's once-a-decade change of leadership, UPI reports.
China has been hit by a number of scandals as the party strives to preserve its image at home and abroad. It also doesn't help that the personal lives of Chinese leaders have come into public view to a rare extent which has drawn unprecedented international interest, said the Times.