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China Security Memo: Sept. 2, 2010

12 MINS READSep 2, 2010 | 18:15 GMT

Whistleblowers

In recent weeks there have been three notable attacks against "whistleblowers" in China. Whistleblowers, or people who expose wrongdoing by businesses, government agencies and other organizations, face reprisals nearly everywhere in the world, and the Chinese attacks are nothing new. But they do highlight a major issue in China's current anti-corruption drive, the effectiveness of which depends on the passage of new laws to protect informants. The most famous attack targeted Fang Shimin, better known by the pen name Fang Zhouzhi, who is also known in China as the "Science Cop." He has made a career of exposing questionable or fake science. Fang received international media attention recently when he revealed that the Ph.D. degree of former Microsoft-China CEO Tang Jun came from Hawaii's Pacific Western University, which was not accredited and was shut down in 2006 by the Hawaii state government. At 5 p.m. on Aug. 29, Fang was heading home after finishing a TV interview at a nearby cafe when he was approached by two men on the street. One of the men sprayed him with a liquid, either pepper spray or ether (reports differ), while the other attacked Fang with a hammer. The assailants had carried out enough preoperational surveillance to find Fang's residence, but their attack was unsophisticated. Fang was immediately aware of what was happening and fled from his assailants. Fang was wary of attackers after receiving death threats and following a June 24 attack on an editor of Caijing Magazine, Fang Xuanchang, under similar circumstances (the two Fangs are not related). Xuanchang is an investigative reporter known for debunking medical "cures" and other "bad science" who has worked with Fang Shimin in the past. Xuanchang left work at approximately 10 p.m. on June 24, and before he arrived at his apartment complex he was attacked by two men with pipes. The assailants hid in a dark area and made their move before Xuanchang arrived at his apartment complex, in a spot where there was no security-camera coverage. After the beating, Xuanchang was able to escape and get a taxi to the hospital, where he received stitches and other treatment for his relatively serious injuries (his head was split open and he may have had some internal bleeding). Both Fangs criticized similar people for unsubstantiated science, and so the attackers may be linked to the same case, but many people could have a motive to intimidate the two activists. The subject of Fang Shimin's Aug. 29 TV interview was a Daoist priest who claimed to have some remarkable health remedies, including a cure for cancer. In other cases, Fang has questioned the accuracy of articles published in scientific journals, some of which have been retracted. Fang Xuanchang has pursued many of the same topics, and both men were on television together in June questioning the ability of Chinese scientists to predict earthquakes and were verbally dressed down by Chinese officials. The two Fangs take risks in waging such a public campaign, but other whistleblowers don't want such exposure.

Encouraging Informants

In their campaign against corruption, Chinese authorities know they cannot be everywhere at once, so they must rely on insiders to reveal illegal activities. First, though, they must offer some incentive for those who have access to pertinent information but are not seeking the limelight and are afraid of retribution. Chinese media recently reported that a Finance Ministry regulation that went into effect Aug. 20 will give whistleblowers 3 to 5 percent of any embezzled public funds that are reported (allowing rewards of up to 100,000 yuan, or about $14,700). It also requires a full name and address from the whistleblower, verified by their ID. This is the latest in a host of government incentives at both the national and local level to help recruit whistleblowers for the anti-corruption campaign. But for many potential recruits, the risks may still outweigh the benefits. One risk is the requirement that the whistleblower's identity be included in the report in order for the person to receive the reward. Chinese media reported Sept. 1 that a man was attacked Aug. 2 in Qian'an, Hebei province, a month after reporting intimidation by a mining company to his municipal and county governments. He had used his real name in his reports, and that information was likely leaked to the mine owner. While Chinese intelligence and security services employ large numbers of informants, they are often reporting on issues that do not threaten officials (or at least the corrupt ones). Reporting on corruption becomes very dangerous when the official taking the reports has guanxi, or a personal networking relationship, with the one taking the bribes. And the corruption may involve important sectors of the economy such as mining, which the government has a strategic interest in protecting. In June, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the highest-level prosecutor in China, issued a report that said nearly 70 percent of informants who reported criminal activities faced some sort of revenge, much of which is technically legal, such as job termination or otherwise having their lives officially complicated when they have to navigate the government bureaucracy. A recent attack in Aksu, in the restive Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, may have been a case of retribution against people cooperating with the police. Many of the dead were Uighurs who may have been participating in auxiliary police patrols. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (which spells Uighur with a "Y"), said that locals refer to them as a "Han Helpers' Army," implying that they are resented by other Uighurs. After the attack, Xinjiang began offering awards of 10,000 to 100,000 yuan for verified information on illegal weapons or explosives. As the corruption crackdown spreads slowly across China, other attempts at retribution are bound to occur. The new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Finance, like past incentives, stipulate that informants' information must be kept confidential and threatens punishment, albeit vaguely, for exposing the information. But such rules have not been effective in the past, and a new law being considered by the National People's Congress to better protect informants has yet to be enacted. Meanwhile, the government's inability to effectively protect informants will continue to hamper China's anti-corruption efforts. (click here to view interactive map)

Aug. 26

  • Police arrested eight suspects in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and in Hengyang and Leiyang, Hunan province, on Aug. 24 in a drug-trafficking case, Chinese media reported. The Hengyang Public Security Bureau directed the operation, which targeted members of the same gang thought to be trafficking drugs along the Jingzhu Expressway. In Hengyang, police seized 760 grams of methamphetamine, 40 kilograms of Magu (similar to ecstasy) and one suspect. Alleged gang leader Yu Xiaoming was arrested in Guangzhou, and six other suspects were arrested in Leiyang.
  • Police seized more than 1,000 boxes of counterfeit cigarettes and 28 cigarette-rolling machines worth 50 million yuan in a raid in Raoping, Guangdong province. This factory was part of a well-established counterfeiting and distribution network that extended into neighboring Fujian province.
  • Nearly 100 villagers from Gaobu, Guangdong province, staged a protest over officials selling their farmland without their permission. The local government allegedly sold 50 mu (about 8.23 acres) of land belonging to the villagers, who have yet to receive any money from the sale.

Aug. 27

  • Police in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, arrested 19 suspects who allegedly organized a gang to control area mining resources worth 300 million yuan. The gang was trying to get mineral-extraction rights at the Sijiaotang mine in Lianjiang, Guangdong province. In September 2009, their leader, Wu Yaxian, allegedly dispatched the gang to the mine with guns to intimidate a "crowd" of people, presumably mine workers and vendors. One person was killed in the confrontation.
  • Li Weimin, deputy Communist Party chief of Anyang, Henan province, was confirmed by the Anyang city government to have fled China, likely due to fear of prosecution for corruption. Li's whereabouts are unknown. Three other officials from Sanmenxia, Henan province, where Li previously held several official positions, have been sanctioned for accepting bribes.

Aug. 28

  • The National People's Congress expelled two deputies, Zhu Guangping and Sun Taosheng, for taking bribes. Zhu is from Nanyang, Henan province, and Sun is from Anyang.
  • A former bank accountant was convicted of misappropriating funds at a branch of the Rural Credit Cooperative Bank in Neijiang, Sichuan province. On April 23, the accountant exchanged 300,000 yuan in cash for "ghost money," which is fake currency burned during traditional ancestor-worship rituals.

Aug. 29

  • A 41-year-old female detainee was found dead in a detention house in Zhaotong, Yunnan province. She had been arrested Feb. 23 for illegally producing explosives. The cause of her death is unknown.

Aug. 30

  • On Aug. 23, police in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, arrested 23 suspects involved in casino-gambling activities, Chinese media reported. (Casino gambling is illegal throughout China except for Macau.) Police raided several gambling dens and seized 11 cars, 110,000 yuan and a gun. Eleven of the suspects already had criminal records for gambling, robbery or drug trafficking.
  • Forty workers laid off from China Datang Corporation's Baoding thermal power plant staged a sit-in protest on Aug. 25, Chinese media reported. About 100 police officers were called in to disperse the protestors, injuring two. They also detained the protestors until they signed an agreement to end the sit-in. The current and former employees complained that certain employees were being kept on as "temporary workers" who received half their regular salaries and that those who were laid off were not receiving retirement benefits.
  • Beijing dispatched extra police to disperse petitioners from the city in order to present a more orderly urban atmosphere during the SportAccord Combat Games (a martial arts competition) that began on Aug. 28. A group of petitioners from Heilongjiang province was taken to court and 100 petitioners from Shanghai were turned around at the train station. Another 200 from the same Shanghai group were arrested at their hotels.

Aug. 31

  • Two of three men involved in stealing cables from the main stadium for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, were arrested on July 24, Chinese media reported. The three men arrived at the stadium by motorcycle at 8 p.m. on July 24, but it is unclear how they entered the facility. They took an elevator to the top floor, where they cut 185 meters (about 607 feet) of lighting cable into short pieces, in the process causing 300,000 yuan in damages. While they were binding the pieces for transport, a security guard discovered the men, one of whom escaped by jumping into the Pearl River while the other two were detained.
  • In the ongoing case against GOME founder Huang Guangyu, his 14-year sentence was upheld, but his wife's three-year term was commuted and she was released. She will be able to manage the family's finances while Huang tries to force out current GOME CEO Chen Xiao. Huang still owns nearly 30 percent of GOME's shares and is battling Bain Capital over control of the giant electronics retail chain.
  • China instituted a new mobile-phone registration system that requires all new users to register with their real names and all previously registered users to provide their real names within three years. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology estimated that 321 million mobile-phone subscribers do not have their real names registered. This will enable the security services to better monitor criminal suspects, but it also raises concerns about personal information being sold to businesses.
  • Beijing announced that 2,000 more security personnel were trained and deployed at kindergartens and elementary schools in preparation for the beginning of the school year. Cities and provinces across the country began funding more school security following a series of school stabbings earlier in the year.

Sept. 1

  • The deputy chief of Shanghai's Economic Crime Investigation Department announced that police had discovered several types of fraud related to the Shanghai World Expo and that more than 3,000 suspects were detained between July 24 and Aug. 20. Tourist guides were colluding with scalpers to increase their profits from ticket sales, some scalpers were presenting fake teacher's certificates to obtain free tickets and members of the expo staff were accepting bribes to allow guests to go through staff entrances.
  • The former president of Luoyang County People's Hospital in Shangluo, Shaanxi province, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and had 5.53 million yuan worth of property confiscated. He had received 913,000 yuan in kickbacks from seven pharmaceutical suppliers and the rest was property from unknown sources.
  • A three-karat diamond worth 2.19 million yuan was stolen from a Tiffany & Co. jewelry store on Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing. A "foreigner" entered the shop and created some sort of diversion, but media accounts differ on the exact chain of events. In one version, he entered with a woman who helped create a diversion while he switched the stone with similar gem. In another account he knocked something off the counter, grabbed the diamond and fled the store.

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