New York Times website blocked following report on the personal wealth of Wen Jiabao. Chinese military shuffles leadership positions in anticipation of 18th Party Congress. Local governments and ministries begin to enact personal and information security measures prior to leadership change. Chinese government approves construction of new nuclear power plants. Environmental protests engulf village on Hainan Island. These are the top stories from the People¡¯s Republic of China for the week of October 26.
New York Time Website Blocked Following Report on Wen Jiabao¡¯s Personal Finances
The Chinese and English language versions of the New York Times website was blocked by the Chinese government on October 26 after the paper published a lengthy report detailing the personal wealth of Premier Wen Jiabao¡¯s extended family. The Times article estimated that Wen Jiabao¡¯s extended family controlled 2.7 billion US dollars in assets, 80% of which held by Mr. Wen¡¯s mother, younger brother, two brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, and the parents of his son¡¯s wife. Family investments involved several different sectors of China¡¯s economy, including the insurance giant Ping An, which financially benefited from reforms in 2004 that were enacted by a state body under Wen¡¯s control. The report also mentioned Wen¡¯s younger brother, who owns a company specializing in wastewater treatment and disposal of medical waste that received more than 30 million US dollars in grants that it obtained following tougher regulations in medical waste disposal spearheaded by Mr. Wen in 2003 following the outbreak of SARS. The investigation covered 20 years from 1992-2012. The Times report stressed that it could not find any holdings directly held in Mr. Wen¡¯s name, or if he had excused himself from official decisions that directly affected the financial holdings of his relatives. The BBC was also impacted by the New York Times report, as its World News Channel was blocked after a reporter commented on the story while the corresponding website for BBC News was also blocked late October 26. Chinese authorities aggressively patrolled social media sites such as Sina Weibo, where users saw tweets about the New York Times story deleted mere minutes after posting.
Revelations about Mr. Wen could affect his standing during and after the 18th Party Congress, scheduled to begin on November 8. Mr. Wen is officially stepping down, but his potential to remain influential behind the scenes could be harmed by speculation about his immense wealth. The personal wealth of top Chinese officials is an especially sensitive issue which highlights a growing income gap in Chinese society and fuels allegations of corruption. The website for Bloomberg News was blocked in June 2012 following a report examining the finances of China¡¯s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, even though the report stated there was no evidence of wrong doing in Xi¡¯s case. Wen Jiabao obliquely referred to suspicions of personal wealth in March 2012 when he claimed he had ¡°never pursued personal gain¡± while Premier and stated that his record would be vindicated by history.
(The Guardian, Al-Jazeera, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, October 26)
China shuffles military as transition nears
Chief leaders of the de facto armed forces of the Communist Party, the People¡¯s Liberation Army (PLA), were updated on October 25, according to information disclosed on the website of China¡¯s Defense Ministry. Major personnel changes include such positions as chief administrator of PLA, head of the air force, director of the General Armament Department, director of the political department, and head of the logistics department. These slots will be filled respectively by Fang Fenghui, Ma Xiaotian, Zhang Youxia, Zhang Yang and Zhao Keshi, who either boast professional or battlefield experience in the military. Their promotion is seen as China¡¯s surging need to rival the United States in terms of naval and air force capabilities, specifically in the South and East China Seas. Concerns to upgrade the cost effectiveness of cyber warfare capability are also high on the agenda.
The move is seen as a pre-settlement of the 12-member Central Military Commission as the 18th Party Congress is due on November 18, when seven to nine or possibly eleven Politburo members and the rest of the commission members will be unveiled. It has become certain that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will succeed as president and premier.
Whether Xi will command as both Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission remains unknown.
(New York Times, ABC, South China Morning Post, October 25)
Ministries and local governments implement special rules and effects for the forthcoming leadership transition
National ministries and local governments are preparing special regulations and methods to ensure social stability for the China Communist Party¡¯s (CCP) 18th National Congress in the coming two weeks according to multiple sources.
Beginning on October 20, local police and fire departments in Zhejiang, Hubei, Hainan and several other provinces launched special missions and projects to deter crimes, protests, and mass incidents and to ensure public security and stability. According to Epoch Times and the Xinhua News Agency, on October 24, the CCP Internet Information Office convoked a meeting with provincial and municipal internet administers, and major internet media, requesting all departments to ¡°raise a propaganda climate for 18th National Congress and reject ¡®harmful¡¯ information on the Internet.¡± Internet servers and administrators began to block any sensitive contents and comments on blogs, forums, and social networks. Additionally, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced plans to stop any telecommunication updates, construction projects, and to strengthen telecom network control and maintenance. At the same time, all internet forums and local governments sent staff to prevent discontented people from petitioning and protesting. Although some people feel inconvenienced and uncomfortable, authorities vow that people will not be adversely affected by heightened security during the 18th National Congress.
(Xinhua News Agency, October 22; Xinhua News Agency, Epoch Times, October 24; China Daily, October 25)
Chinese government announces plan to approve construction of new nuclear power plants
On October 24, China announced a plan to approve construction of new nuclear power plants. It is the first move by the Chinese government to resume construction of new nuclear power plants since the Japanese tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis in March 2011 when China suspended approvals of new nuclear plants due to the fear of nuclear disasters. The new plan is aimed at reducing China¡¯s reliance on oil and coal and cutting its green house gas emissions. China¡¯s surging reliance on imported oil is perceived as a threat to national security. The government said that the new plan would allow China to satisfy 30% of domestic energy needs from alternative sources, including nuclear energy. During a State Council meeting, Premier Wen Jiabao stated that no plan for nuclear power projects would be approved for inland locations and only a small number of plants would be built by 2015. The Cabinet on Wednesday also passed plans on nuclear power safety and development to raise entry requirements for the industry. The new plants would “comply with the highest international safety standards”. No date was given for resuming construction of nuclear plants. It was reported that some local citizens held “a string of small-scale protests” against the government¡¯s announcement of the plan, as residents felt that constructions of new nuclear power plants would be a threat to their safety.
(China Daily, People¡¯s Daily, Bloomberg, Ming Pao Daily News, October 24; BBC, October 25)
Proposed Coal Power Plant Provokes Massive Protest on Hainan Island
The 18,000 residents of the coastal village of Yinggehai on Hainan Island¡¯s Southwestern coast remain in a tense standoff with police following massive protests over the proposed construction of a coal-fired power plant. Over 1000 people had been protesting in Yinggehai following an October 13 decision to resume construction on the controversial plant, which was originally scheduled to be built in Yanggehai then moved to the Hainan villages of Foluo and Hongliu following demonstrations at each location. The standoff turned violent as police reportedly detained several individuals and unleashed a barrage of tear gas on the townspeople, who responded with a fusillade of bricks directed at police. The protests ebbed over the weekend largely due to a heavy police presence in the town. Local residents accused the police of dragging suspected protestors out of local hospitals and restricting residents from leaving the town. A local resident speaking under an assumed name claimed the police were terrorizing the population into accepting the construction of a ¡°polluting project¡± and that authorities ¡°really don¡¯t care whether we live or die.¡± The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Hong Kong, reported upwards of 50 arrests and nearly 100 injuries resulting from the protests, which they estimated cost 3.9 billion renminbi (US$620 million) in damages.
The county government officially denied any detentions of townspeople and stated that the protest was without merit, as the final location of the coal-fired power plant had yet to be determined. The protest is the latest in a series of major demonstrations against polluting industrial products in China, challenging the Chinese government to find a balance between economic development and environmental protection. Earlier in October, authorities in Hainan Province commenced the trial of Liu Futang, a 64 year old former forestry official who has been detained since July after publishing an unlicensed book chronicling Hainanese objections to the construction of the disputed coal-fired power plant. Protests against environmentally insensitive projects have met with some successes, as residents in Shifang, Sichuan Province halted the establishment of a copper smelting plant in their town in July and Dalian residents in Liaoning Province scuttled a proposed petrochemical plant in August 2011.
(The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Radio Free Asia, October 22; South China Morning Post, October 23)