China urged to respect Internet freedom after Bloomberg censorship

Posted June 29, 2012, at 8:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — American officials urged China on Friday not to censor its Internet after the government blocked access to Bloomberg’s Web site. The Chinese government had denied Web access to the financial news agency following an investigative story on massive wealth amassed by relatives of Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s new president.

“The U.S. strongly supports respect for freedom of expression and press freedom in China, including over the Internet,” said a State Department spokesperson who was not authorized to comment by name. “We have continually urged China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet, including freedom of expression.”

Bloomberg reporters and editors declined to comment on their interactions with the Chinese government in the course of preparing the story. But a company spokesman, Ty Trippet, acknowledged that the blockage of the Web sites of Bloomberg and its magazine Business Week appeared to be retaliatory, “in reaction, we believe, to a Bloomberg News story that was published on Friday.”

Bloomberg’s terminals, which constitute the company’s main platform for financial information and its main source of revenue, were not blocked, Trippet said.

Chinese officials have recently ratcheted up restrictions on and repression of dissidents and journalists ahead of this year’s key meeting of the 18th Party Congress and scheduled top leadership changes. Asked about the Bloomberg case by reporters Friday, officials declined to comment.

Friday’s investigative report focused on the man who will be at the helm of that new leadership, delving into $376 million in assets held by the extended family of Xi, currently China’s vice president.

The report did not allege any illegal activity by Xi’s extended family nor did it directly link the wealth to Xi himself. But the sprawling company holdings — ranging from the rare-earths industry to vast real estate properties — owned by Xi’s family members, including his sister and brother-in-law, would be likely to exacerbate the simmering unhappiness in the country with the growing wealth gap between those connected with China’s top leaders and the rest of the populace, as well as with widespread official corruption.

Besides the Bloomberg Web site, other signs of the story on Xi’s family were scrubbed from the Internet in China. On weibo, a Twitter-like service used by many Chinese, searched for English terms such as “bloomberg,” “xi jinping” and “crown prince” were also blocked. Even the surname of China’s presumed next leader — the single word “Xi” — was a banned search word.

In addition, many of the names and companies mentioned in the Bloomberg story were also all blocked, including Xi Zhongxun (Xi Jinping’s father), Deng Jiagui (Xi’s brother-in-law) and New Postcom (one of many profitable companies owned by Xi’s extended family).

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