U.S. urges China to respect Internet freedom after Bloomberg Web site is censored


China’s Vice President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People on March 13, 2012 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
June 29, 2012

American officials urged China on Friday not to censor its Internet after the government blocked access to the Bloomberg News Web site. The Chinese government had denied Web access to the financial news agency after an investigative article on massive wealth amassed by relatives of Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s president.

“The U.S. strongly supports respect for freedom of expression and press freedom in China, including over the Internet,” said a State Department spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. “We have continually urged China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet, including freedom of expression.”

Bloomberg News reporters and editors declined to comment on their interactions with the Chinese government in the course of preparing the article. But a company spokesman, Ty Trippet, acknowledged that the blockage of the Web sites of Bloomberg News and its magazine Businessweek appeared to be retaliatory, “in reaction, we believe, to a Bloomberg News story that was published on Friday.”

Bloomberg Terminals, which constitute the company’s main platform for financial information and its main source of revenue, were not blocked, Trippet said.

Chinese officials have recently ratcheted up restrictions on and repression of dissidents and journalists ahead of this year’s key meeting of the 18th Party Congress and scheduled top leadership changes. Asked about the Bloomberg News case by reporters Friday, officials declined to comment.

Friday’s investigative report focused on the man who will be at the helm of that new leadership, delving into $376 million in assets held by the extended family of Xi, currently China’s vice president.

The report did not allege any illegal activity by Xi’s extended family nor did it directly link the wealth to Xi himself. But the sprawling company holdings — ranging from the rare-earths industry to vast real estate properties — owned by Xi’s family members, including his sister and brother-in-law, would be likely to exacerbate the simmering unhappiness in the country, which has a growing wealth gap between those connected with China’s top leaders and the rest of the populace, as well as widespread corruption.

Besides the Bloomberg News Web site, other signs of the article on Xi’s family were scrubbed from the Internet in China. On Weibo, a Twitter-like service used by many Chinese, searches for English terms such as “Bloomberg,” “Xi Jinping” and “crown prince” were blocked. Even the surname of China’s presumed next leader — the single word “Xi” — was a banned search term.

In addition, many of the names and companies mentioned in the Bloomberg story were blocked, including Xi Zhongxun (Xi Jinping’s father), Deng Jiagui (Xi’s brother-in-law) and New Postcom (one of many profitable companies owned by Xi’s extended family).

Richburg reported from Beijing.

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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