While the whole world is talking about the #PanamaPapers, the giant leak of confidential documents from a Panama-based firm that aided scores of politicians in hiding money by setting up offshore shell companies around the world, the majority of mainland Chinese know nothing about its existence.
According to the documents, which were compiled by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the leaked files reveal offshore companies linked to the family of China's top leader, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to fight “armies of corruption”.
China's Web censor has blocked #PanamaPapers from major search engines and deleted all discussions about the leak on social media since April 4, in an effort to keep the majority of mainland Chinese people from finding out that (according to ICIJ) “family members of at least eight current or former members of China's Poliburo Standing Committee, the couture's main ruling body, have offshore companies arranged through Mossack Fonseca.” Netizens are reporting that even emails referencing the leak have been tampered with.
China-based netizens have been posting regular updates on the censorship measures on Twitter. First, the Chinese translation of Panama Papers vanished from top three search engines in China.
Censorship in #China – Results searching #panamapapers in 3Top SearchEngines: Baidu,360 Search &Sogou. @TobiasBasuki pic.twitter.com/JjabpGXyt2
— Christine.S.Tjhin陈姝伶 (@cataya) April 5, 2016
The screen-captured images show the pop-up notice that appears when users search the sensitive term: “Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations and policies, not displayed. It is recommended to try searching other related terms.”
All other related terms, news and discussions were deleted in a matter of a few second on Weibo:
— 小悲 (@Zodiac4698) April 5, 2016
Within the Great Fire Wall, the most ridiculous [censorship is happening]. Even the news about people in Iceland throwing eggs and banana at the Legislative Building were deleted. All posts that touched up secrecy, bank, money laundry and panama were deleted within a few seconds! The web censors are nuts, they keep deleting. I just added a like to a post and it vanished. It seems that the Chinese Communist Party is filling up all holes in the wall. I suggest those outside the wall help your fellow from inside to know the truth.
Even private e-mails appear to be under sensitive word filtering:
网管要求自查自删所有涉及 #巴拿马文件 的内容，包括评论、微信。。刚看到好几位记者表示他们单位“不让翻墙”，于是能翻的人把维基百科做了个文档 供大家下载，但不翻墙的人说下不了（邮箱能受到）微信连文件下载都做过滤了 pic.twitter.com/Ia2YXkbPAz
— 贝带劲 (@beidaijin) April 5, 2016
Web administrators have to self-censor and delete all contents related with @Panamapapers from all Weibo comments and Wechat. Some reporters from mainland China just complained that their media organizations had stopped them from “climbing over the wall”. For those who can access wikipedia, they attempted to circulate the information through email attachment, but their friends within the wall said they could not download the files (as the emails are filtered), even attachments via WeChat are filtered.
Leaked censorship instructions indicated that the propaganda authorities are acting in full gear (via China Digital Times):
X Province Internet Information Office: Find and delete reprinted reports on the Panama Papers. Do not follow up on related content, no exceptions. If material from foreign media attacking China is found on any website, it will be dealt with severely. This directive was delivered orally to on-duty editors. Please act immediately. (April 4, 2016)
X Website: Please withdraw the article “Panama Papers Leaked, Putin in USD 200 Million Money Laundering Scandal” and related stories from the dual homepages [site-wide and news] (including [social media] clients), and move articles to the backend of the site. (April 4, 2016)
The ICIJ report implicates the brother-in-law of current Chinese president Xi Jinping, daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, granddaughter of Jia Qinglin who stepped down from the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012, and business partner of Gu Kaila, the wife of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai who was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption in 2013.
Below is a detailed description of the Chinese power players in ICIJ's report:
Li Xiaolin is the second child and only daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng. She was the vice president of China Power Investment Corporation, a state-run power company and served as a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference or CPPCC, an advisory body to the Chinese legislature. She has been called China’s “Power Queen.”
Deng Jiagui, who has made a fortune in real estate development, became “Red Nobility” in 1996 when he married Qi Qiaoqiao, the daughter of Xi Zhongxun, one of China's revolutionary heroes and a former top official. Qi Qiaoqiao’s younger brother is Xi Jinping, who is president of China and head of China’s Communist Party. An investigative report by Bloomberg News in 2012 revealed that Deng and his wife had hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate, share holdings and other assets.
Jasmine Li became famous in China after she was photographed attending a debutante ball in Paris in 2009 with other wealthy and politically connected young female friends. Li attended boarding school in the United States and completed a bachelor’s degree at Stanford University in California. After leaving the university, Li began working in the art world as an assistant for the New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang and later as an “gallery relations liason” for the online art retailer Artsy in New York and Hong Kong. Her grandfather, Jia Qinglin, was China's fourth-ranking official on the ruling Politburo Standing Committee until he stepped down in 2012.
French architect Patrick Henri Devillers was a business partner of Gu Kailai, the wife of former high-flying Chinese politician Bo Xilai. Devillers met the Gu when her husband was a Communist Party official in charge of the industrial port town of Dalian in far northeastern China. Devillers and Gu were co-directors of Adad Limited, a company registered in the United Kingdom, but Devillers also helped Gu set up a secret offshore company that was used to purchase a luxury villa in the south of France. Devillers was detained in June 2012 at his home in Cambodia at Beijing's request and spent several weeks in custody in China before being released. His testimony was used in the 2013 corruption trial of Bo Xilai.
According to BBC's latest report, two more members from the Politburo Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan, have relatives-in-law holding off-shore firms in the leaked files. Liu Yunshan is the head of propaganda in China.
Thus far, there has been no official response to the Panama Papers, but the party-affiliated mouthpiece Global Times stressed that “powerful forces” are operating behind the scenes, denouncing the leak as a conspiracy against leaders from non-Western countries and suggesting that Vladimir Putin was a primary target of the leak.