Foreign Policy Blogs

China Blocks Reporting on Xu Zhiyong Trial, Offshore Wealth of China’s Elite

Protesters at trial of Chinese human rights activist Xu Zhiyong, Jan. 22, 2014.

Protesters at trial of Chinese human rights activist Xu Zhiyong, Jan. 22, 2014.

China has been on its very worst behavior this week. As prominent human rights activist Xu Zhiyong (许志永) went on trial January 22, Chinese police dragged protestors away from the scene and harassed foreign journalists attempting to report on the trial. Xu’s trial is the first in a series of trials for activists associated with the pro-democracy New Citizens’ Movement. Meanwhile, a new investigative report on the massive offshore wealth of China’s elite has been blocked by Chinese censors. This is not the sort of behavior one expects of a country that wishes to be regarded as a “great power” or “world leader,” but rather the crude antics of a tin-pot dictatorship.

As Xu Zhiyong went to trial his supporters gathered outside the court in an unusual act of public protest. Police responded with strong-arm tactics, dragging peaceful protesters away and placing them under arrest. Foreign journalists covering the scene outside the court were also bullied by police in full view of news cameras. CNN’s David McKenzie and his crew were “kicked, pushed and punched by Chinese security before being forced into a nearby van” (video). BBC’s Martin Patience was harassed by government thugs and pushed away from the trial scene. Sky News reporter Mark Stone was also harassed by police outside the court. Photos and video from the scene may be found at these reports and at China Digital Times.

China Digital Times has also published leaked “stability maintenance” instructions from the Beijing Public Security Bureau identifying Xu Zhiyong’s supporters and trial protesters as “stability maintenance targets” (稳控对象) over whom city-wide control must be imposed for the trial period from January 22 to 24. “Orwellian” is a cliché which nonetheless best describes such language used to refer to ordinary citizens with legitimate grievances against their government. “During the court hearings of New Citizens’ Movement cases,” read the instructions to public security officers, “you must not allow stability maintenance targets to appear in the areas surrounding the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court or the Haidian court.”

U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke issued a statement January 23 calling “on Chinese authorities to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately” and “to take measures to ensure that foreign reporters working in China are able to carry out their journalistic responsibilities in accordance with internationally recognized conventions.” Domestic news coverage and online discussion of Xu Zhiyong’s trial has been blocked by Chinese censors, as have Xu’s closing statements at his trial. Censored Chinese microblog posts on Xu Zhiyong’s case may be found at FreeWeibo.

Meanwhile, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released an investigative report based on leaked records revealing the massive offshore holdings of China’s elite (see also in Chinese: 机密文件披露中国精英的海外资产, PDF). Among those implicated in ICIJ’s report are relatives of top current and former Chinese leaders including the brother-in-law of current president Xi Jinping, the son and son-in-law of former premier Wen Jiabao, the daughter of former premier Li Peng, and the son-in-law of former leader Deng Xiaoping, who have all served as directors of offshore companies set up to allow them to poke billions of dollars away in overseas tax havens (see also China Digital Times, New York Times).

Following its publication of an article on this report, The Guardian’s website was blocked by Chinese censors. GreatFire is monitoring other foreign news sites that have been partially or completely blocked in China following this report, including French newspaper Le Monde and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, both of which published coverage of the report in Chinese for readers in China (and the list of blocked news websites keeps growing). GreatFire has also provided an unblockable mirror page of the report in Chinese from China Digital Times.

China Digital Times has published leaked censorship instructions from the Chinese government to domestic media ordering the removal of all content related to this report. “Related images and accusatory comments about leaders and the system [of government] must be deleted without exception,” read the instructions, and user IDs “of those who have an evil influence” must be blocked from domestic social media websites.

This is how the Chinese government deals with its domestic critics and foreign news media: Violence, repression, harassment, and censorship. Ordinary citizens with legitimate grievances against their government are singled out for repression as “stability maintenance targets” or as “those who have an evil influence,” their leaders subjected to sham trials and thrown into prison. Foreign journalists are bullied and beaten by Chinese government thugs. Foreign news websites are blocked and domestic websites are scrubbed by government censors. Is this how a country that wishes to be taken seriously as a “great power” or “world leader” behaves?

China employs such methods, not to safeguard “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” the “Chinese Dream,” or other such propagandistic nonsense, but to protect the wealth and power of a tiny elite at the expense of the Chinese people. The common factor in Xu Zhiyong’s sham trial and censorship of foreign news media is the Chinese government’s effort to protect the hidden wealth of top leaders and their families from public knowledge. Other recent cases of censorship and harassment of foreign journalists in China have likewise been linked to reporting on the hidden wealth and financial ties of top leaders and their families.

China’s poor human rights behavior has nothing to do with legitimate ideological differences between China and the West, but everything to do with naked greed and the protection of power and privilege for a tiny few at the expense of the many. Anyone who pretends otherwise is either a liar or a fool.

Image credit: Stéphane Lagarde via Twitter.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades