Smugglers’ Blues

Coverage of a vast smuggling racket reaching senior Communist Party ranks offered an instructive contrast between the Hong Kong and mainland press. The Yuan Hua Group, a multifaceted importing concern, was at the center of a scandal in Xiamen that could involve as much as US$18 billion in smuggled oil, cars, computers, and other goods. Most of the municipal leadership of the eastern coastal city was implicated, including Politburo member Jia Qinglin, whose wife, Lin Youfang, was investigated, reported Mark O’Neill in the South China Morning Post (Jan. 25). “The official media have not reported the scandal, and the city government refuses to say anything.” It also said Premier Zhu Rongji, noted for his anti-corruption stance, confronted Jia, and that Jia divorced his wife in 1999 under pressure.

The business-oriented Guangzhou Daily Web site broke the story on the mainland Jan. 24, detailing a government reshuffle in Xiamen.

The Jan. 21 Shanghai Star, a government controlled English-language paper, detailed
arrests in an unrelated $24- million tax scam “the police are calling the biggest bust of its kind since 1949,” without a word about Xiamen.

A Jia speech, reprinted in the government-owned Beijing Daily Jan. 23, said in part: “We must comply with the clear-cut regulations of the central party on the influence of leading officials and the use of their powers and duties by their wives and children to make illegal gains.” The Post stayed on the story. “There seems little doubt the Xiamen bombshell will shake the party to its foundation....The scale of the crimes is mind-boggling. [It] has lent credence to the argument that the mainland system condones, if not spawns, corruption,” the Post’s Willy Wo-lap Lam wrote Jan. 26.

From Beijing, China Daily, the official English-language paper, ran stories denouncing corruption on Jan. 24, Jan. 26, Feb. 3, Feb. 18, and Feb. 21, all omitting Xiamen. “Zhu Rongji told government organizations at all levels to be vigilant in stamping out corruption and to work hard at building a more honest government,” the Xinhua news agency reported on Feb. 18.