Microblogs are making it easier for whistleblowers to root out state-level corruption

China Resources chairman Song Lin: Weibo’s latest victim.
China Resources chairman Song Lin: Weibo’s latest victim.
Image: Imaginechina via AP Images
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On July 17, a Chinese journalist blew the whistle on the chairman of one of China’s most powerful state-owned enterprises, China Resources, alleging that he had lost shareholders billions of dollars by deliberately overpaying for the 2010 acquisition of Shanxi Jinye Coal. The reporter, Wang Wenzhi, works for Economic Information Daily, which is owned by state-run Xinhua, so it’s no wonder he took to Sina Weibo to publish his views.

Wang’s Weibo post, which has since been deleted, was addressed to the Communist Party’s disciplinary organ, which monitors corruption. Because Song Lin, the chairman of CRP, runs the international investment arm (paywall) of the government’s State Council, he ranks at the same level as a vice-minister under Party hierarchy.

Chinese-language articles about the post were also pulled. However, earlier today, six shareholders announced that they had already filed a lawsuit against China Resources Power (CRP), the unit of China Resources listed in Hong Kong, over similar accusations.

CRP shares plunged nearly 12% since market close on July 16:

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The shakeup follows another Weibo-inspired leak about government corruption: A Caijing reporter accused Liu Tienan, a former director of the National Energy Administration and deputy director of the government’s economic planning body, of corruption.

Weibo and other internet forums have attracted a growing number of whistleblowers in the past few years, mostly because they circumvent the editorial discretion of government-controlled media. Investigative pieces implicating government officials have long put editors in a tough position since they’re both journalists and Party propaganda arms. Remarks by the Economic Information Daily’s deputy editor-in-chief, Luo Guojun, highlighted this tension.

“It’s his civil right to blow the whistle on someone who he thinks has done something wrong, but you shouldn’t issue it on behalf of the paper,” Luo said, reports the South China Morning Post (paywall). ”How could he have done it before even letting us know? That’s not our organization’s spirit. Organization is important for the Communist Party, right?”

Of course, blasting out incriminating content on the internet has its downsides. A popular whistleblower in southern China known for calling out local Party officials was just attacked by assailants who burned him with acid and hacked with knives.

Government crackdowns are also on the rise. The website and Sina Weibo account of another anti-corruption blogger, Zhu Ruifeng, were blocked yesterday, as Global Voices reports, noting that 107 similar blogs have been pulled recently, ostensibly to rein in anonymous blackmailing.

In this way, the government’s corruption crackdown has the unfortunate side effect of stymying transparency. And yet, more and more journalists seem willing to take the risk of piping up.