A Chinese billionaire in exile is meddling with the inner workings of China's Communist Party. The US government-backed media outlet Voice of America is paying the price.
China's government censor warned in April there would be "serious consequences" for unauthorized media coverage of Guo Wengui, the billionaire real estate magnate living in the United States. His case is "highly politically sensitive," it stated.
There is a reason China's Communist Party is so concerned: A few days earlier Guo had accused high-ranking party members of corruption in a live interview with the Mandarin-language service of Voice of America (VOA), a US government-funded media outlet. The livestream, scheduled for three hours, was halted after 80 minutes. The video stopped just as Guo began discussing Wang Qishan, who heads China's internal corruption watchdog.
Five VOA employees were put on administrative leave thereafter, including Service Chief Sasha Gong. The decision to cut short the livestream was made before it began, VOA stated. It added there was no pressure to do so from the US government, and while China did pressure the organization, VOA said that did not influence its decision.
Ex-spy chief on video
Bill Ide, a Beijing correspondent for VOA, was informed that the Guo interview was viewed as an interference in internal Chinese affairs and summoned by the Foreign Ministry, two VOA employees told The New York Times. The broadcast will reportedly play a role in visa extensions for VOA journalists.
A social media campaign against Guo is underway, including videos with Ma Jian, the former acting director of state security who was detained two years ago in a corruption investigation. In the videos, he speaks about a number of unseemly business dealings he helped Guo with.
China's foreign ministry said on April 20 that Interpol had issued a "red notice" for Guo. A "red notice" is an international alert for someone wanted for extradition. Guo, a member of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, resides in the US, which does not have an extradition treaty with China.
Abduction in Hong Kong
Despite China's official designation as a socialist country "with a Chinese character," its economic opening starting more than 25 years ago has produced the most billionaires in the world. Real estate has been a particularly fruitful way to amass wealth, which is maintained with the help of political connections and protection. But it can be risky business: Billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from his hotel in Hong Kong in January and returned to mainland China. The Canadian passport holder, who the New York Times reported in 2014 had business ties with relatives of President Xi Jinping, has not been heard from since.
Dangerous political infighting
Information on powerful families is particularly valuable this year. The Communist Party will hold its quinquennial conference in the fall, during which new leadership will be chosen. Corruption accusations can serve as a useful tool for eliminating opposition vying for top posts. Guo's claims may wreak havoc on internal party politics, and there may be more to come: He has announced a press conference for June in New York. He has already compared the relationship between Chinese business people and politicians to prostitution.