The latest issue of Caijing magazine came out on Friday this week. It was supposed to hit newstands on Monday. Why the hold-up? Authorities ordered Caijing’s publishers to shelve two stories just as it was about to go to print, according to a report in Hong Kong’s Ming Pao on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal immediately jumped on the Ming Pao scoop. Several Caijing sources have confirmed to CDT that Ming Pao was spot-on. What’s surprising is that Caijing’s absence went unexposed for so long.
Each of the magazine’s two aborted articles reflect the continued flammability of privatization in China — one in theory, the other in practice. First and foremost, says Ming Pao, Caijing had to scrap its planned cover on the contentious draft law to shield private property, which appears set for passage at the ongoing legislative session in Beijing following protracted debate. In the run-up to the NPC session, propagandists had tried to snuff media discussion of the controversy over the law, report the Hong Kong press. Caijing’s take was “impartial” and “not excessively” critical, reports Ming Pao. But the piece was shot down nonetheless, implies the paper, because it flew in the face of the gag order.
The second story was potentially more damaging – and a fitting example of just what’s so sensitive about the first. It detailed the failure of state-run brokerage firm Xiangcai Securities – a fresh wrinkle to Caijing’s jaw-dropper in January about the stealth sell-off of state power major Luneng (here’s our earlier post). A big investor in Xiangcai was Luneng, who, according to Caijing’s January cover feature, was unloaded at rock-bottom prices to two little-known Beijing firms with presumably big-time connections.
Since Caijing hit out in January, few besides the Hong Kong-published Ming Pao have dared try to get to the bottom of that mystery. State assets regulators at SASAC began probing Luneng’s dealings, but “interest groups” have stalled the investigation, the Ming Pao story goes on to say; now debate over how to handle the Luneng case is festering on-high. Some top officials want the investigation to proceed, Ming Pao contends, while others fear it would open a Pandora’s box, implicating too many officials or even raising the specter of social unrest. (Rumors, wholly unconfirmed, have linked the sale of Luneng to persons close to top leaders, including Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and corruption point-man Wu Guanzheng.)
In the world of Chinese publishing today, four days is a lifetime for a magazine of Caijing’s standing to go MIA from newstands. How it happen with nary a peep in the media about it? Credit should go to the code of professional conduct instituted by Caijing EIC Hu Shuli. At the same time, perhaps the press was distracted as well by the opening of the NPC, or still a bit hung over from Spring Festival. In any case, folks at Caijing still question whether the leak to Ming Pao came from within. But with hundreds of employees crowding the Beijing offices of Caijing publishers SEEC Media, word was bound to filter out sooner or later. For the magazine’s brand, it’s probably a good thing that it did. Otherwise, how else could Caijing really explain the late release to readers and advertisers?