Ex-Chinese Premier's Letter 'Sidesteps' Reports of Family Wealth

(L-R) Former Chinese president Hu Jintao, newly-elected Chinese President Xi Jinping and former premier Wen Jiabao sing the national anthem at the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 17, 2013.

A letter penned by former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao denying he abused his power to bolster his family's wealth has failed to address key questions about high-ranking ruling Chinese Communist Party officials and their families' finances, analysts said on Monday.

In a letter to a columnist for Hong Kong's Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper at the weekend, Wen defended himself against suggestions that his family's business activities implicated him in the abuse of his official power during his decade as premier.

"I have never been involved in, and would not get involved in, a single transaction in which I abused my power for personal gain because no gains would be enough to shake my convictions," Wen wrote to columnist and Hong Kong politician Ng Hong-mun, who has been photographed at dinner with the former premier.

"I came to this world with empty hands, and I want to leave this world clean," Wen said in the letter, which was dated Dec. 27 but appeared in Saturday's edition of the Ming Pao.

But Wen stopped short of claiming a lack of abuse of power on the part of his family, analysts said, side-stepping questions about the wealth of those related to China's high-ranking officials.

Former Xinhua journalist Yang Jisheng, now deputy editor of the cutting-edge political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, said Wen's assertion that he was clean didn't extend to his family.

"Ng Hong-mun has a pretty good relationship with Wen Jiabao, and Wen Jiabao even invited him to dinner when Ng Hong-mun went to Beijing [in 2011]," Yang said.

"Wen clearly believes that he isn't corrupt, and wants to make that clear, but he doesn't actually say that his family isn't corrupt, nor whether or not others have used his power [for financial gain]," he said.

"If he doesn't say this, then I can only read it to mean that he has no control over what his wife and [daughter] do."

Hidden wealth reports

In 2012, a string of overseas media reports revealed details of the hidden wealth of China's leaders, including an estimated U.S.$2.7 billion of hidden assets controlled by Wen's relatives, reported in The New York Times.

Last November, The New York Times reported that U.S. investment bank JPMorgan had paid out U.S.$75,000 a month to a Beijing-based consulting firm headed by Lily Chang, an alias of Wen's only daughter Wen Ruchun.

Cai Yongmei, editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Kaifang, said Wen was likely hoping to mend his reputation overseas by having the letter published by a journalist friend in Hong Kong.

"I don't think that Wen Jiabao meant this as a private letter; I think he meant it to be public, as a way of helping clean up his reputation in the foreign media," Cai said.

Wen, who served as Chinese premier from 2003 to 2013, was in charge of the economy, including major financial institutions, during his time in office.

"Ever since that report came out about his family, he has really taken it to heart, and has brought it up several times already; this isn't the first time," Cai said.

"He mentioned it last year at the parliamentary sessions, at his retirement," she said. "He really cares about his image."

Anti-graft drive

Since taking office in March, President Xi Jinping has warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party must beat graft in order to survive, and has launched a campaign targeting powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies."

But political analysts say the authorities will use the campaign largely as a tool against their political opponents, and that calls for full transparency and public whistle-blowing are still highly unwelcome.

Authorities in Beijing are this week preparing to put on trial anti-graft activist Xu Zhiyong, who has been campaigning for top officials to reveal their wealth, on charges of disrupting public order.

Xu, a legal scholar, will not speak at the trial on Wednesday in protest over the charges he faces and other irregularities, his lawyer has said.

The Jan. 22 trial will be held at Beijing's Intermediary Court with no media or outside observers allowed to attend, effectively making the hearing a secret trial.

The authorities have detained dozens of other activists who have called on China's leaders to reveal details of their assets since March, rights activists estimate.

At least a half dozen other activists associated with Xu's group have been charged and are also expected to be tried soon.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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