Wen Jiabao

Websites often critical of Beijing challenge report on Wen Jiabao's family wealth

Overseas Chinese media challenge report published in The New York Times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 2:16pm

Independent media based in free democracies are usually quick to jump on sensational scandals involving political leaders.

But some overseas Chinese media took a very different approach to a recent report targeting the family of Premier Wen Jiabao . Instead of playing up a lengthy investigative report in The New York Times last Friday that exposed the family's wealth, they carried items casting doubt on the report and voicing support for Wen, who will step down as premier in March.

The news websites of US-based Boxun, Mingjing and Duowei, all popular among overseas Chinese, published reports and commentaries defending Wen's family against allegations that they accumulated a vast fortune. However, they are generally critical of the mainland's authoritarian regime.

The New York Times said members of Wen's family, including his mother, wife and two children, controlled at least US$2.7 billion worth of assets, accumulated during Wen's time in office. Several overseas websites, including Boxun, reported that some overseas media had received "detailed" information about Wen, triggering concerns there could be a conspiracy to undermine him.

The New York Times report came as the authorities said that the case of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai - once a contender for promotion to the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee, who courted support among leftists - had been sent to prosecutors.

Analysts said Wen's reformist and clean image might have helped him gain such unusual support.

"The reason is Wen's image as the representative of China's reformist camp, who has been a lonely voice within the hierarchy calling for Western-style free democracy in recent years," said Zhang Lifan , a Beijing-based political analyst.

Professor Steve Tsang, who teaches contemporary Chinese studies at The University of Nottingham, said Wen was "the symbolic leader of the forces for faster and relatively more liberal reform within the Chinese Communist Party system".

Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a Hong Kong-based veteran China watcher, said he believed the high-profile reactions of Beijing and Wen's family had also helped trigger a positive reaction from the Chinese-language media overseas. The central government and Wen's family immediately rejected the report. The family's lawyers warned that the family reserved the right to take legal action against The New York Times.

Beijing took a more low-key approach when similar allegations against the family of Vice-President Xi Jinping were made in a Bloomberg investigative report in June.

Zhang said the common belief that both exposés had been triggered by leftist political rivals helped the leaders gain support from overseas media.

However, Tsang said the reactions from the various Chinese-language media reflected their own political agendas and interests.

"If Wen is really like what they see in him, and yet allowed his family to gather such a huge illicit fortune, what hope will there be for the system or someone like Wen within the system to clean it up?" Tsang asked.