Thu, Dec 13, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Crash cover-up tipped scales in China’s leadership succession

In a murky sub-plot to the recent CCP leadership transition, the death of a close ally’s son undermined the position of China’s departing president Hu Jintao

By Jonathan Ansfield  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Ling, 56, built his career in the Communist Youth League. At an early age, he secured the patronage of Hu, who led the Youth League in the early 1980s and brought Ling to the General Office in 1995.

“Hu didn’t come with a lot of friends, but Ling was someone he knew he could trust,” said the Organization Department official. “Officials said that if Ling called, it was like Hu calling.”

Ling played a central role in moving Youth League veterans into high offices and undermining Hu’s adversaries. Ling also wielded leverage over Internet censorship of leaders’ affairs and sought to use it to benefit his patron.

LOW PROFILE

“Negative publicity, including untruths, about Xi Jinping were not suppressed the way publicity about Hu Jintao was,” one associate of CCP leaders said.

As his influence grew, Ling tried to keep a low profile. About a decade ago, his wife closed a software company she owned and formed a nonprofit foundation that incubates young entrepreneurs.

The couple sent their son, Ling Gu, to an elite Beijing high school under an alias, Wang Ziyun (王子云 ).

“Ling Jihua told his family not to damage his career,” a former Youth League colleague said. “But it seems it can’t be stopped.”

Still living under an alias, Ling Gu graduated from Peking University last year with an international relations degree and began graduate studies in education. One of his instructors said his performance plunged later in his undergraduate years.

“I think there were too many lures, too much seduction,” he said.

Before dawn on March 18, a black Ferrari Spider speeding along Fourth Ring Road in Beijing ricocheted off a wall, struck a railing and cracked in two. Ling was killed instantly, and the two young Tibetan women with him were hospitalized with severe injuries. One died months later, and the other is recovering, party insiders said.

Under normal circumstances, party insiders said, suppressing such news to protect the image of the party would be a routine matter. However, Ling Jihua went further, they said, maneuvering to hide his son’s death even from the leadership.

The Beijing Evening News published an article and a photograph, but the topic was immediately scoured from the Internet.

Later, the families of the two women in the car received payments from China’s largest state-owned oil company, according to a top executive with a major foreign multinational. He said the money was paid “to make sure they shut up.” A publicity executive for the company, China National Petroleum Corp, declined to answer questions about the matter.

When overseas Chinese-language media reported in June that the Ferrari driver had been Ling Jihua’s son, the Hong Kong-based magazine Yazhou Zhoukan published a story debunking the reports, citing the message on the social networking site.

“The source for this was Ling Jihua’s office in the General Office,” a journalist close to the situation said.

WEAKENING

Howvever, the attempted cover-up spun out of Ling’s control.

Party insiders said that the police recorded the surname of the victim as Jia, which sounds like the word for “fake,” a notation police officers sometimes use when the truth is being obscured. The move set off rumors connecting the dead driver to a recently retired party leader, Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), who was infuriated and took his grievance to Jiang, the former president.

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