Top Chinese business editor incommunicado as 'wolf-warrior' editor steps down

China Business Journal editor-in-chief Li Peiyu is being investigated for 'embezzlement' and 'extortion.'
By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman
2021.12.16
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Top Chinese business editor incommunicado as 'wolf-warrior' editor steps down A file photo of Li Peiyu, the editor-in-chief of the China Business Journal, who has been incommunicado since Dec. 12, amid reports that she has been detained either by police or Chinese Communist Party investigators.
Li Peiyu

A prominent Chinese state media figure was incommunicado, believed detained on Thursday, as the "wolf-warrior" editor-in-chief of nationalistic tabloid the Global Times announced his retirement.

Friends of Li Peiyu, the award-winning editor-in-chief of the China Business Journal under the aegis of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), say they lost contact with her on Dec. 12, amid reports that she has been detained either by police or ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) investigators.

Liu Chengkun, a former reporter for the journal, said Li is in the custody of police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, held on suspicion of "extortion and embezzlement of state-owned assets."

Liu has previously alleged in media reports that Li used her power as an editor to extort sums of money from companies in return for favorable coverage.

"This has been confirmed," Liu told RFA on Thursday. "She was taken away by police in Zibo city, Shandong on suspicion of embezzling state assets."

"I have also learned that it was [domestic appliance maker] Hisense who reported her," he said. "It was likely leaked because these extortionate practices are bad for the reputation of CASS, a [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) think-tank."

"They want her to take the rap for this extortion," he said, adding that if Li underreported her gains from the extortion, then CASS could pocket what was left after she had forfeited the money as part of her sentence.

'Definitely incommunicado'

A senior employee at the China Business Journal, who asked to remain anonymous, told RFA that Li has been incommunicado for several days and under investigation by the CCP's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

"She is definitely incommunicado right now, maybe [detained] not by the police, but the CCDI," the employee said. "It's hard to know what's going on, but she's neither in Shandong nor in Beijing."

Meanwhile, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin announced on social media that he will be stepping down from the job, although staying on as an op-ed writer.

"I have retired and my new role is Global Times special commentator," Hu said via his Twitter account on Thursday. "I will continue to speak on Twitter."

"I know that many Western people don’t like me, but after all, I am one of the leading influencers in China's public opinion sector. One should hear opinions from both sides," he wrote.

To his 24 million followers on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, Hu wrote: "I will continue ... to do everything I can to further the CCP's news and public opinion work."

Hu's departure comes after he denied of extramarital affairs with two female colleagues earlier this month -- claiming in a blog post that he was a victim of blackmail by the accuser, a deputy editor at the newspaper.

His Twitter feed typically features putdowns targeting China's critics overseas.

Strident nationalism

He taunted Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Dec. 10, after a U.K. court ruled that Julian Assange could be extradited to the U.S.: "Timid PM Morrison, you should rescue Assange, an Australian, like China pressured the US to rescue Ms. Meng Wanzhou."

Meng was released after admitting to U.S. federal investigators that she lied about Huawei's dealings with Iran in contravention of U.S. sanctions, at the same time as Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained in China shortly after her arrest in Vancouver, in a move that was criticised internationally as hostage diplomacy.

Hu has also exchanged barbs with exiled former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law, who had made fun of his Photoshop skills, calling him a "Chinese traitor."

Hong Kong's pro-CCP Sing Tao Daily newspaper reported that Hu will be replaced as a columnist by the People's Daily op-ed vice director Fan Zhengwei, and as editor-in-chief by People's Daily international section deputy director Wu Qimin.

It said Hu, now 61, is well past the official retirement age of 60.

Senior Chinese journalist Chang Ping said it is telling that Hu is now being replaced by two different people.

"Hu Xijin did a great job of playing the villain," Chang said, suggesting that the CCP's propaganda machine may now be looking to rein in the strident nationalism of the Global Times under Hu.

"For example, while the People's Daily was putting out editorials saying that public servants should be pure of heart, the Global Times' take would be that corruption is inevitable, and to hope that the public could tolerate a moderate amount of it," he said.

"But public opinion management [the CCP's term for its propaganda operations] isn't just about controlling what information gets out; it's also about the struggle over the right to interpret that information," Chang said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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