Ex-Google chief rejects fake cancer claim, friends say

Weibo star Lee Kai-fu is indeed being treated in Taiwan, despite doubts raised by commentary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:42am

People close to prominent opinion leader and technology executive Lee Kai-fu have rebutted a Communist Party propaganda website commentary that suggested the former Google China chief was faking his cancer.

The accusations came last month through an op-ed in Dangjian magazine, which suggested Lee, now the chief executive of Innovation Works, a Beijing-based business incubator and venture capital fund, was not suffering from lymphoma. The article asked how a cancer patient could be frequently updating his microblog.

"The number of my Weibo postings has fallen by 80 per cent," a friend quoted Lee as saying. "And patients undergoing chemo can manage to get online. It's even possible for them to avoid spending a single night in hospital."

The person asked for anonymity because the conversation was meant to be private.

Major mainland news portals have since been ordered to carry the article by the Publicity Department, and the internet management office under the Beijing municipal government, according to several people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The authorities' effort to promote the op-ed came in the midst of an official campaign to exert more control over social media, including influential opinion leaders on the internet, known as "Big V" bloggers - a reference to their "verified" Sina Weibo accounts.

Lee's account has more than 51 million followers, making it one of the most popular on the mainland. The Dangjian op-ed compared him to Charles Xue Biqun - another prominent online commentator better known as Xue Manzi - who has been detained on suspicion of patronising prostitutes.

Lee, who left the mainland to seek treatment in Taiwan, has declined to comment, saying he does not want to become embroiled in the argument. But he has challenged the claims in private discussions with friends.

A medical document seen by the South China Morning Post shows that Lee, 51, received treatment for follicular lymphoma in a hospital in Taipei last month. A photograph seen by the Post appeared to show a pale Lee lying in a hospital bed.

Lee has written about his condition on Weibo: "A few [medical] indexes have not dropped but risen after chemo. Will need to follow doctor's advice more strictly and focus on treatment and rest. Can't help but have to cut down on time spent on social media. What a pity."

Wang Zhaohui , spokesman for Innovation Works, said Lee was still participating by phone in several company meetings each week when he was not in hospital.

A photograph distributed by Taiwan's Central News Agency showed Lee meeting with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Wednesday.

The Dangjian commentary, carried on October 8, is phrased to cast doubt on Lee's integrity and question his ties with the United States, where he studied, and Taiwan, where he was born. The article also accused Lee of going to Taiwan for treatment because he had friends there who would provide him with fake documentation of the disease.

More than 20 major news portals on the mainland have republished the commentary. Sources from at least three of them - NetEase, Tencent and Sohu - said that they were ordered by the authorities to do so. They also said the authorities ordered the news outlets to "follow the thread well" - to remove web comments supportive of Lee.

Of his critics, Lee told the Post in August: "I don't spend much time speculating about why people say bad things about me … For anyone with a reasonable ability to analyse, it should be obvious what I stand for."