News / Asia

China Trying to Manage Exposure of Corruption Online

Various Chinese microblog websites are seen on a screen in this photo illustration taken in Beijing, Sep. 13, 2011.
Various Chinese microblog websites are seen on a screen in this photo illustration taken in Beijing, Sep. 13, 2011.
Reuters
China's Internet is brimming with disclosures of officials collecting bribes, homes and luxury accessories as casually as they do mistresses.
 
But while the government tolerates such anti-corruption vigilantism, it is also extremely leery of the threat the Internet can pose to Communist Party rule.
 
The Internet is the new tool in the fight against corruption - a cornerstone policy of new President Xi Jinping, who has pledged to tackle the problem head-on.
 
But while acknowledging that China's online world is helpful, authorities have also moved quickly to quash rumors that might fan protests that could escalate out of control, deleting microblog posts or even entire accounts.
 
The accounts of two people who spread potentially panic-inducing rumors of bird flu breaking out in Guizhou province were erased, according to the China Daily newspaper.
 
He Bing, vice president of the law school at China University of Political Science and Law, told media that his Twitter-like microblog, or “weibo”, was closed down after he forwarded what turned out to be a rumor of a student killing an Internet enforcement officer who had suspended his account.
 
Author Murong Xuecun, an outspoken censorship critic, said his four weibo accounts, with 8.5 million combined followers, were deleted after he posted criticism of restrictions on what university teachers can discuss with students.
 
China unveiled tighter Internet controls in December, legalizing the deletion of posts and accounts, underscoring the government's desire to muzzle online debate.
 
Those convicted of spreading rumors and false reports can be jailed for up to 10 years.
 
China has more than a half-billion Internet users, and the  great popularity of weibo has spawned a legion of corruption watchdogs whose posts can circulate among millions.
 
“Citizens have readily transitioned from being extremely reluctant to voice their views to being extremely competitive about trying to get their views out there and to gain followers,” said Ken Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

 Punished for posting
 
But protests could threaten stability and the disciplinary apparatus has moved quickly to squelch hearsay.
 
Police this month detained a 28-year-old Beijing woman for posting that another woman, 22, was gang-raped and thrown off a building to her death and that police refused to investigate.
 
Police said the victim committed suicide, but were alarmed when hundreds protested against her death, demanding an inquiry.
 
Also this month, four people in Xinjiang province in China's northwest were given five days' detention for spreading rumors about a murder that police say never happened.
 
The latest bureaucrat to fall from grace thanks to the Internet was Liu Tienan, sacked last week as deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission.
 
Liu was accused by a journalist in microblog posts of helping to defraud banks of $200 million and of threatening to kill his mistress who reportedly balked at the scheme.
 
Media fanfare about Liu's downfall “suggested the ruling party welcomes netizens to join the anti-corruption campaign”, Zhou Shuzhen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing told the state news agency Xinhua.
 
The Internet has snared numerous victims.
 
An official in Shanxi province was dubbed “watch brother” after cybersleuths posted photos of him wearing luxury timepieces. A deputy bank manager became known online as “house sister” for buying 20 properties in northwest China worth some $160 million and more than 40 in Beijing.
 
One of the most notorious cases burst into public view last November, with video posted online of Lei Zhengfu, a squat and now-former apparatchik in Chongqing, having sex with an 18-year-old mistress.
 
Yet another official, ex-chief of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Yi Junqing, was sacked in January when his mistress posted details of their affair.
 
“These days the government can't ignore this kind of social pressure because it faces increasing questions of its own legitimacy,” says Li Datong, a former journalist who lost his job for challenging censorship.
 
But while Xi has pledged to hunt down corrupt “flies” as well as “tigers”, referring to low- and high-ranking officials, the public is still waiting for a big catch.
 
“We have some pretty large-size flies, but no small tigers,” said Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College in the United States. “The next test case will be to see whether the government will allow a minister's wrong deeds to be exposed, and then to go after him.”
 
The saga of Bo Xilai, a Politburo member drummed out of the party and arrested for corruption and whose wife was convicted last year of the murder of a British businessman, occurred before Xi became president and party chief.
 
China's ultimate rulers, the seven members of the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee, are “off limits” for corruption probes, Pei said.
 
The government responded with fury when the New York Times reported in October that relatives and associates of then-premier and Standing Committee member Wen Jiabao had secretly accumulated at least $2.7 billion in assets.
 
The Times' website has remained blocked in China since then.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs