Chinese censors have blocked online searches related to the US-based New York Times as well as the newspaper’s websites, after it published an investigation on the wealth of the Chinese premier’s family.
Searches for “New York Times” in Chinese and “NYT” were blocked on Friday on the popular social networking website Sina Weibo, which is similar to Twitter, with searches returning a message that the result could not be displayed “due to relevant laws”.
The New York Times‘ (NYT) official accounts on Sina Weibo and a popular rival, Tencent Weibo, had both been deleted on Friday, with attempts to access the accounts returning the message “this user does not exist”.
Searches for premier “Wen Jiabao” were also blocked on both social networking sites, but the names of top Chinese leaders are generally blocked on such sites.
Both Weibo sites also blocked searches using the name of Wen’s wife, Zhang Beili, and his son Wen Yunsong.
China’s most popular Internet search engine, Baidu, displayed a message saying “some results cannot be displayed” in response to searches for the name of Wen and his family.
While China’s 538 million internet users are able to use microblogs to accuse local officials of corruption, posts making reference to China’s most powerful politicians are regularly deleted by online censors.
The NYT launched a Chinese-language website in June, “designed to bring New York Times journalism to China”, the company said.
That website, and its English equivalent, were inaccessible to ordinary Chinese users on Friday.
The NYT reported that Wen’s family had controlled assets worth $2.7bn according to company and regulatory filings seen by the newspaper from 1992-2012.
The report comes as an embarrassment for Wen, whose public image is of a man of humble origins and a reformer fighting abuses and corruption within the party – a source of widespread anger among ordinary Chinese.
After a detailed investigation, the newspaper said that many relatives of the government’s number two had become “extraordinarily wealthy” during his time in office.
Investments by Wen’s son, wife and others spanning the banking, jewellery and telecom sectors were worth at least $2.7bn according to an analysis of company and regulatory filings from 1992-2012.
The NYT investigation covered alleged dealings by Wen’s younger brother and brother-in-law, as well as his businessman son.
The business of Wen’s wife, Zhang Beili, a well-known jewellery and gemstone expert, had become “an off-the-charts success only as her husband moved into the country’s top leadership ranks”, the newspaper said.
His elderly mother, meanwhile, owned a stake valued at $120m in 2007 in the enormous Ping An insurance giant, which benefited from reforms during Wen’s tenure, according to the newspaper.
It gave no figure for the family’s net worth now, but calculated the value of the assets they had controlled over the period examined. No holdings were found in Wen’s name.
Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, hit out at the newspaper on Friday, saying the report had “ulterior motives”.
The revelations come as a particular embarrassment for Wen, who is the standard-bearer of the Communist Party’s reformist wing and has campaigned against the rampant corruption that infuriates so many ordinary Chinese.
In a speech published in April, he said official corruption was “the biggest danger facing the ruling party” and warned that “those who hold political power may perish” unless it is addressed.
President Hu Jintao, who like Wen will step down after 10 years in office, has also made fighting graft in the Communist Party a top priority, and the issue is sure to figure in the party’s 18th congress starting on November 8.
Ahead of the congress, the party proceeded with an unfinished item of business on Friday with the announcement by state media that ex-Chongqing city boss Bo Xilai had been expelled from parliament and had his legal immunity lifted.
The decision to remove him from the National People’s Congress clears the way for Bo to be put on trial for corruption and other crimes related to the murder of a British businessman which led to his downfall.