China’s former internet tsar Lu Wei detained in graft probe: anti-corruption agency
In his heyday, Lu controlled internet access for 730 million Chinese users and was the gatekeeper for foreign tech firms seeking to enter the China market
China’s former internet tsar Lu Wei, who once sat in Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s seat during a visit to the California company, has been detained amid a Communist Party internal graft probe, its top anti-corruption agency said.
As head of the Cyberspace Administration of China and its predecessor organisation from 2013 to 2016, Lu was a crucial official in the implementation of President Xi Jinping’s cybersecurity policy. In his heyday, he wielded enormous power over what 730 million Chinese internet users could access and acted as the gatekeeper for foreign technology companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.
Lu’s abrupt removal from the helm of the internet regulator in June 2016 – keeping only his party post as a deputy chief of the propaganda department without a portfolio – had fuelled speculation over his political fate.
Sources said Lu was taken away by investigators late last week.
“Along with six other people, either his colleagues or family members, Lu Wei has been taken away for investigation a few days ago,” a well-placed source in Beijing told the South China Morning Post. Lu’s secretary, driver and two medium ranking officials also had been questioned, according to the source.
In an event that underscored Lu’s stature in China, he was greeted by the CEOs of three US tech giants during a late-2014 US visit: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.
Amid criticism of Chinese authorities over the blocking of mainland users from accessing Facebook, Lu had said: “I have never said Facebook couldn’t enter China. Nor did I say it could enter China.”
He argued that foreign internet companies had to comply with Chinese laws and regulations before they could be permitted to enter China. He opposed allowing internet companies into China’s market to make money if the move would hurt China at the same time.
It remains unclear at this stage, according to the first source, what mistakes Lu had made and whether he would eventually be prosecuted.
In a brief statement late on Tuesday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said Lu was interrogated for suspected serious violations of party discipline, without offering further details.
The source compared Lu’s downfall to that of Yang Huanning, a former work safety department chief, raising the possibility that Lu could face disciplinary action but ultimately escape prosecution. Yang, after a three-month investigation, was removed from office, had his official rank reduced to a lower grade and was placed on probation by the party for two years.
Lu made his last public appearance on September 30, when he, along with Jiangxi provincial party boss Lu Xingshe and governor Liu Qi, visited Jinggangshan, one of the most popular revolutionary bases for the ruling Communist Party.
Unlike other senior deputy heads of the Central Publicity Department, Lu did not make it into the party’s elite Central Committee at last month’s leadership reshuffle held once every five years. Lu’s successor at the Cyberspace Administration, Xu Lin, is a full member of the committee.