There are two recent political developments in China worthy of our attention.
The first is that the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) publicity department last month criticized more than a dozen news organizations at a conference in Beijing for "taking wrong directions in their political commentaries." It also designated seven issues as "sensitive" and demanded that the media follow the Xinhua News Agency when reporting on these issues.
The lively media reporting that was seen not long ago looks likely to disappear again.
The second development was the CCP headquarters issuing a notice on June 22 demanding that all party members "create a new trend of learning [former president Jiang Zemin's (
These two events, which appear unrelated, are actually closely tied. Jiang's attempt to save his political influence is an open secret, but why is he starting by tightening controls on the media?
Jiang's ultimate aim is to relieve the lethal threat to his legacy posed by the case of Shanghai tycoon Zhou Zhengyi (周正毅). With his experience in the Chen Xitong (陳希同) case, Jiang knows that he will not have a leg to stand on if he prevents a judicial investigation into Zhou's alleged loan irregularities. After all it was Jiang himself, as part of his anti-corruption campaign aimed at expanding his own influence, who ensured Beijing-clique member Chen was put on trial. Now all he can do is try to minimize the political harm caused by this case. This requires the media stop reporting on the Zhou scandal.
Zhou's case was one of those "sensitive issues" that the party told the media to follow the party line on. Rumor has it that the crackdown on the financial magazine Caijing was triggered because its cover story on Zhou got on the government's nerves.
Jiang is apparently trying to prevent Zhou's case from becoming an issue of public concern. Otherwise, President Hu Jintao (
Will the actions of Jiang and his Shanghai clique be enough to ensure Zhou's case evaporates? The possibility does exist. Although Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (
The fuse that touched off the scandal was the serious disputes Zhou had with the residents of Shanghai's Jing An District whose houses will be dismantled as part of one of his projects. Media from outside Shanghai have been trying to dig up information about the land dispute. District residents, however, held a meeting not long ago and proclaimed that "there was no problem with Jing An District." Attorney Zheng Enchong (鄭恩寵), who represented the residents, has been arrested on charges of illegally obtaining state secrets.
The intent to keep a lid on the case is obvious. Shanghai city authorities' boldness in taking these actions comes from Jiang's backing and from what they deem a righteous cause. When Hu and Wen were leading the anti-SARS campaign, Shanghai residents complained that Beijing authorities' over-reaction to the epidemic had seriously impacted their city's economic development.