Beijing: Bloomberg's news website remains blocked by China’s state censors a full month after it detailed the riches amassed by the family of Xi Jinping, the man who is expected to be the country’s next president.
Although periodic outages of foreign media websites in China are common, the month-long total blackout of Bloomberg is an unusually harsh response, highlighting the extent to which its coverage angered the government.
Beijing has tried to apply pressure in other ways, too. In the weeks since the article was published, people believed to be state security agents have tailed some Bloomberg employees; Chinese bankers and financial regulators have cancelled previously arranged meetings with Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief; and Chinese investigators have visited local investment banks to see if they shared any information with Bloomberg, according to people with knowledge of these incidents.
The crackdown has not affected the operation of Bloomberg’s profit engine: its terminals, whose subscribers include Chinese state-owned banks and government bodies. However, members of Bloomberg’s China sales team have expressed concern that the chill from the website blackout could deter buyers, according to the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In the report published on June 29, Bloomberg used publicly available records to show that Mr Xi’s extended family had investments in companies with total assets of $376m; an 18 per cent indirect stake in a rare earths company with $1.73bn in assets; a $20.2m holding in a publicly traded technology company; a luxury villa in Hong Kong worth about $31.5m and at least six other Hong Kong properties worth a combined $24.1m.
Bloomberg was unable to trace any assets to Mr Xi himself, or to his wife or daughter. There was also no evidence of any wrongdoing by Mr Xi or his family.
Nevertheless, the report was seen as embarrassing for Mr Xi, threatening to undermine his image as a clean official in a country rife with corruption just months before he is set to succeed Hu Jintao as president in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
“It’s very unusual for such a major news organisation to have their website blocked like this,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei, a company that tracks Chinese media. “They crossed a red line and the timing also has a fair bit to do with this.”
No other English-language mainstream media website has been blocked in China for longer than a few days since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Censors now target specific articles or disrupt access to sites at politically sensitive times such as when dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
Mr Goldkorn said there was no standard procedure for Bloomberg to follow if it wanted to get its website unblocked, apart from lobbying at the highest levels of government.
“That’s the only thing they can do, and obviously Bloomberg has the resources to do it,” he said.
In the meantime, Bloomberg appears to be trying to keep a lower profile in China. Its spokeswoman declined to comment for this story and employees said that reporters in China had been advised not to email the article about Mr Xi to their contacts or even to print it out, in order to avoid being seen to spread it around.