I didn’t know I was a surveillance target until the day I walked into a hotel in China’s Fujian province. I was pushing past half a dozen workmen changing lightbulbs in the glum but busy lobby when a uniformed man stepped in front of me. Blue jacket, creased trousers, braided epaulets, peaked cap: government security officer. Politely, he asked whether I would mind answering a few questions. He stood erect, with the manicured swagger of a corporate CEO. Next to him, a gangly plainclothes colleague gave me a so-you-thought-we-wouldn’t-catch-you look.
How had they known I would be here? The only people who had my itinerary were my editors in London. A few days earlier, I had sent them an email outlining my trip, and I’d been updating them daily by phone. I could only assume that the authorities had been monitoring my email and calls. I had been chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Lai Changxing, China’s most-wanted man. Lai had cheated the government out of $3.6 billion by smuggling oil, cars, and cigarettes. Embarrassed, Beijing wanted to hinder any reporting of his case.
The two officers in the hotel demanded to see my passport and asked what I knew about Lai. Then they withdrew to a corner of the lobby to confer. Eventually, they took me to a police car, drove me to the airport, and put me on a plane to Beijing. [Full Text]