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The four best articles on Chinese princelings and corruption

An article in the New York Times yesterday uncovered proof that family members of China's premier Wen Jiabao -- though not Wen himself -- "have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion." The story results from months (if not years) of impressive sleuthing from NYT Shanghai bureau chief David Barboza, and while the online version of the story doesn't cite contributions from other correspondents his China-based colleagues probably had a hand in this 4,700 word behemoth.

The story, landing just two weeks before the expected starting date of the 18th Party Congress, where Wen and his colleague President Hu Jintao will begin to formally yield power, is the latest in a stream of excellent reporting on the interplay between often shady business dealings and princelings-the well-connected sons and daughters of high-level leaders-- by Western reporters in China.

Here are four of the best, published over the last 12 months.

  1. Wall Street Journal: Children of the Revolution

Although there was some controversy over whether the son of the then high-flying (and now disgraced) Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai actually drove a red Ferrari, the story masterfully details the money flowing through China's red elite:

On a recent afternoon at a new polo club on Beijing's outskirts, opened by a grandson of a former vice premier, Argentine players on imported ponies put on an exhibition match for prospective members.

"We're bringing polo to the public. Well, not exactly the public," said one staff member. "That man over there is the son of an army general. That one's grandfather was mayor of Beijing."

  1. Bloomberg: Bo Xilai Clan Links Included Citigroup Hiring of Elder Son

Bloomberg, with a flush reporting budge and financial acumen, took the first deep dive into the wealth of a top Chinese official. Published on April 23, less than 2 months after Bo was removed from his post in Chongqing in the biggest Chinese political scandal in a decade, the Bloomberg piece uncovered that Bo's family fortune was at least $136 million:

The Bo clan's wealth contrasts with his modest official remuneration. As the Communist Party boss of Chongqing, he rated a salary of about 10,000 yuan ($1,585) a month, according to a report on the website of the Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper."

  1. Foreign Policy: Rotting From Within

General Liu Yuan, the son of Liu Shaoqi, a former head of state of China, offered a fairly unvarnished view of the military, in this April article by John Garnaut, China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age:  

‘"No country can defeat China," Liu told about 600 officers in his department in unscripted comments to an enlarged party meeting on the afternoon of Dec. 29, according to sources who have verified notes of his speech. "Only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting." This searing indictment of the state of China's armed forces, coming from an acting full three-star general inside the PLA, has no known modern precedent....

While Chinese leaders regard the United States as a likely future adversary, Liu is more worried about what the PLA, which hasn't seen significant combat since a militarily disastrous invasion of Vietnam in 1979, is doing to itself in times of peace. In his February speech, he described the army beset by a disease of "malignant individualism" where officers follow only orders that suit them, advance on the strength of their connections, and openly sell their services at "clearly marked prices."

  1. Bloomberg: Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortune of Elite

The story that got Bloomberg blocked in China after it was published on June 29 revealed that Xi's extended family (though not Xi himself) have controlled assets of at least $376 million.

"Most of the extended Xi family's assets traced by Bloomberg were owned by Xi's older sister,Qi Qiaoqiao, 63; her husband Deng Jiagui, 61; and Qi's daughter Zhang Yannan, 33, according to public records compiled by Bloomberg...

Bloomberg's accounting included only assets, property and shareholdings in which there was documentation of ownership by a family member and an amount could be clearly assigned. Assets were traced using public and business records, interviews with acquaintances and Hong Kong and Chinese identity-card numbers."

Besides blocking Bloomberg's website as retaliation, The Financial Times reported that "people believed to be state security agents have tailed some Bloomberg employees; Chinese bankers and financial regulators have cancelled previously arranged meetings with Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg's editor-in-chief; and Chinese investigators have visited local investment banks to see if they shared any information with Bloomberg, according to people with knowledge of these incidents."

The New York Times' Chinese language edition published an uncensored version of their story on their website (a decision that other English language newspapers with web presences in China don't always make when they publish sensitive stories.) Their website has already been blocked; whether their reporters receive the Bloomberg treatment remains to be seen.  

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