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Bad news? Just build the Great Web Wall

Hong Kong, Oct. 26: The Chinese government swiftly blocked access this morning to the English-language and Chinese-language websites of The New York Times from computers in mainland China in response to the news organisation’s decision to post an article in both languages describing wealth accumulated by the family of the country’s Prime Minister.

The authorities were also blocking attempts to mention The Times or the Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, in postings on Sina Weibo, an extremely popular mini-blogging service in China that resembles Twitter.

The foreign ministry spokesman on duty in Beijing did not immediately answer phone calls for comment.

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tens of thousands of people to monitor what is said, delete entries that contravene the country’s extensive and unpublished regulations and even write new entries that are favourable to the government.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow specialising 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 said.

The English-language and Chinese-language websites of The Times are hosted on servers outside mainland China. A spokeswoman for The Times, Eileen Murphy, expressed disappointment that Internet access had been blocked and noted that the Chinese-language website 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.”

Former President Jiang Zemin of China ordered an end to blocking of The New York Times website after meeting with journalists from The Times in August 2001. The company’s websites have remained mostly free of blocking since then.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR?

Excerpts from the 4,688-word New York Times article

Beijing: The mother of China’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind — she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-
in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows.

A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal- making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

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 found that Wen’s relatives accumulated shares in banks, jewellers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, sometimes by using offshore entities.

The holdings include a villa development project in Beijing; a tire factory in northern China; a company that helped build some of Beijing’s Olympic stadiums, including the
well-known “Bird’s Nest”; and Ping An Insurance, one of the world’s biggest financial services companies.

 
 
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