Wen Jiabao at the Chinese embassy in Cambodia on Nov. 20. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's premier, Wen Jiabao, spent years preparing nearly 100 pages of documents in anticipation of media scrutiny into his family's wealth, reports Duowei News, an outlet run by overseas Chinese.
The New York Times on Nov. 24 published another stinging report by journalist David Barboza, which claims that the greatest source of Wen's family wealth comes from stocks in Shenzhen-based financial services giant Ping An Insurance, which survived the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s only through a direct appeal to Wen, then vice premier. The shares in Ping An owned by a company later controlled by Wen's family — the value of which swelled into the billions — were purchased at a low price eight months after the Chinese government waived the requirement that Ping An be broken up, Barboza wrote.
The report is a follow-up to Barboza's sensational article last month which claims Wen's family used his political influence and connections to generate a "hidden fortune" of at least US$2.7 billion. The article was condemned by China's Foreign Ministry as a "smear" with "ulterior motives" and led to the Times' Chinese and English websites being blocked in China.
According to veteran columnist and former National People's Congress Hong Kong deputy Ng Hong-mun, the latest negative publicity does not come as a surprise to Wen because the outgoing premier had been expecting it for years. Last April, Ng said, Wen had personally given him a bag of five files containing various reports and information that suggested the premier had predicted that his family's economic situation would eventually be put under the microscope.
The documents Wen handed to Ng added up to around a hundred pages, with the earliest being an article from Guangzhou's 21st Century Business Herald in July 2004. Comprising mainly newspaper and magazine clippings, the documents covered the Ping An rumors as well as negative reports about Wen's wife and two children. The files also contained reports debunking some of the rumors and retractions from media outlets that published misinformation. While the documents do not exonerate Wen or his family from all accusations, they do suggest that he may have been preparing for them for years.
Wen also strongly defended his family during his 90-minute meeting with Ng last year, claiming that he does not have a single family member living overseas and that he has never asked the central government for anything on behalf of his family.
Ng said that even though Wen only provided him with publicly available information, he believes that the premier has not abused his position and that the negative reports are merely attempts by American media to damage the image of Chinese officials.
Wen's son and daughter are relatively low-key and don't have any special political or economic standing, Ng said, adding that former Chinese premier Li Peng has a son who serves as the vice governor of Shanxi province and a daughter who is the CEO of state-owned China Power. Ng doubted the negative publicity would have a significant impact on Wen's legacy but said they would undoubtedly cause waves because of China's ongoing corruption problem.
Ng did not feel he was late in bringing this information to light as he has no obligation to defend Wen, who is set to retire from the premiership next March, but said he felt the need to publicly respond to attempts to create stories out of the premier's wealth.
Wen Jiabao 溫家寶
Ng Hong-mun 吳康民
Li Peng 李鵬