China Denies Jiang Death Reports

Chinese web-savvy Internet users find creative ways to continue debating the subject.

Photos of Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) and former president Jiang Zemin (R) projected on a video screen during a parade in Beijing, October 1, 2009.

Beijing's official media on Thursday moved to quash reports that former president Jiang Zemin has died of illness, following days of speculation about the retired leader's health.

"Recent reports of some overseas media organizations about Jiang Zemin's death from illness are pure rumor," Xinhua news agency reported, quoting "authoritative sources."

The brief news item on Xinhua's international English-language feed followed a report from Hong Kong's Asia Television (ATV) on Wednesday, which said Jiang had died at age 84 from illness.

Meanwhile, a cabinet-level information officer also denied the claim.

The State Council Information Office official surnamed Li told the Associated Press: "It's a rumor," but declined to comment further.

China regards information about the health of its senior leaders, incumbent and retired, as a state secret.

Speculation began online about Jiang's state of health after he was seen to be absent from the leaders' podium during an official event marking the 90th anniversary of China's ruling Communist Party.

It spread rapidly online following the ATV report, prompting China's Internet censors to start deleting posts and blocking searches on the topic.

Information blackout

However, a total information blackout seemed unlikely, with Chinese Twitter users still able to pass on links from overseas sites.

"Posted the photo of ATV reporting #Jiangzemin death on Sina Weibo," tweeted user Yolanda Ma, adding that the update was retweeted "286 times within 20 min, before it got censored."

The Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal appeared to back up ATV's report on Thursday, in spite of the official denials.

Even though Jiang has retired, commentators said his influence on the Chinese political scene was still important in a year when the Communist Party prepares to hand on power to the next generation of leaders.

"While he has retired, the Chinese leader is still regarded as one of the core influential figures in both the CPC and the country," the Economic Journal said in an editorial.

The paper said the succession of power from incumbent president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao is expected at the forthcoming 18th Party Congress later this year.

"China observers need to closely monitor if Jiang's health condition will lead to any last-minute change in China's political arena," the paper said, suggesting that Jiang's death could weaken the position of vice-president Xi Jinping, the man widely tipped to succeed Hu Jintao.

Life support

Veteran political analyst Camoes Tam told RFA on Wednesday that Jiang is likely being kept alive on life-support machines.

Reuters quoted separate sources as saying Jiang was in intensive care at the People's Liberation Army General Hospital, known as the 301 Hospital.

According to a tweet by prominent Chinese blogger Isaac Mao, the list of keywords banned on the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo has now been expanded.

Banned keywords now included: "301", "brain-dead," and "too simple, sometimes naive," as well as variations on Jiang's name and biographical details of his life, according to Mao's post on Google Plus.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.


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