A Chinese journalist went missing Tuesday (March 15th) after heading to the Beijing airport for a flight to Hong Kong. His disappearance may be linked to a controversial letter published in a state-affiliated digital publication earlier this month demanding Chinese president Xi Jinping step down.
An anonymous letter published on March 4th on the online news site Wujie, or Watching News, urged Xi to resign “for the future of the country and the people” and detailed exhaustively the leader’s domestic and foreign policy mistakes. The letter, signed only “loyal Communist Party members,” was soon pulled but a cached version of the document is still available online.
Asked about the letter, China’s State Council Information Office replied on Twitter, “Never heard of that. Such gossips are meaningless.”
Jia Jia, 35, a well-respected mainland journalist who lives in Hong Kong, may be connected to the letter, according to friends and sources interviewed by the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily (link in Chinese).
The letter’s publication on Watching may have been the result of a computer hack, unidentified sources told Apple Daily. Watching is owned by Alibaba, SEEC Media Group and the Xinjiang government in China’s far western region, and the publication of such a letter on purpose would be political suicide for the top officials at the three owners.
According to Apple Daily, Jia saw the letter published on Watching and told the site’s news executive director Ouyang Hongliang, a former colleague of his, to delete the post. In response to questioning, Ouyang told the Chinese internet censorship department that he had first heard about the letter from Jia. Chinese authorities have already investigated Jia’s relatives in northwestern Shaanxi province. Before his departure to Hong Kong, Jia told his friends he was afraid he would be detained or investigated.
Jia was supposed to stay at his friend’s place after arriving in Hong Kong at 11:30pm. He never showed up, his local friends told Jia’s wife. She told Apple Daily that she last heard from Jia when he called her at 8pm on March 15 to say he was ready to board his plane. Jia’s wife said her husband’s phone appears to have been off since then. He has not posted to his normally active Twitter account, which has nearly 85,000 followers, since March 13.
The letter blames Xi for China’s “unprecedented problems and crises” in politics, the economy, as well as ideology, and culture. “For the sake of the party’s development, the country’s long term peace and stability, and for the sake of you and your family’s safety, we demand that you resign from all party and government duties.” The letter ends, ”Let the Party Central Committee and the people of the nation select a virtuous leader who can vigorously lead us into the future.”
There is a translation of the full text of the letter via China Digital Times.
Here’s a summary of the critique of Xi’s handling of the Party:
- Turning the government’s anti-graft campaign into a power struggle
- Forcing all leaders to proclaim his role as the Communist Party’s “core”
- Weakening the power of other officials, like premier Li Keqiang
- Launching inspections of the Party’s discipline watchdog
His handling of foreign policy:
- Allowing North Korea to test nuclear weapons
- Allowing the US to turn its attention to Asia
- Allowing the Tsai Ing-Wen to become Taiwan’s new president
- Letting pro-independence sentiment to rise in Hong Kong
- Abducting Hong Kong booksellers
In terms of the economy, the letter blamed Xi for China’s:
- Stock market crash
- Housing market turbulence
- Money outflows
- Huge layoffs
- FX reserves wasted in “One Road, One Belt“
And its ideological complaints:
- Stressing the media is surnamed the Party
- Holding up ass-kissing writers as examples of fine literature
- Creating blatant propaganda for his own sake
- Shutting down any criticism within the Party
The letter is another indicator, like the recent clampdown on Hong Kong booksellers, that there may be deep rifts and a power struggle inside the Party.