China blocks Bloomberg site after report on leader

BEIJING (AP) — China blocked access to Bloomberg's website on the mainland after the business and financial news agency published a report Friday detailing the multimillion-dollar assets of relatives of the man set to become the country's next president.

The report says that the extended family of Vice President Xi Jinping holds interests that include investments in companies with total assets of $376 million, an 18 percent indirect stake in a rare-earths company with $1.73 billion in assets and a $20 million holding in a tech company. The report cites public documents Bloomberg reporters compiled.

Bloomberg noted that no assets were traced to Xi, his wife, or their daughter and said in the report that there was no indication of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.

Still, the move to block access to Bloomberg's main website, on which the Xi story was the lead news item, underscores the government's sensitivity to such exposure of wealth belonging to people linked to top leaders amid a burgeoning gap between rich and poor and rampant official corruption.

"The government has always been very careful in, on the one hand, emphasizing how they want to contain corruption but yet also worrying about how reports of this nature might galvanize public opinion against the Communist Party," said Dali Yang, a political scientist at University of Chicago Center in Beijing.

The outage also points to the government's concerns about ensuring the country's leadership transition goes smoothly. Xi is poised to take over as Communist Party leader in the fall and president next spring.

Bloomberg's spokeswoman in Asia, Belina Tan, said the company believed the Bloomberg site was inaccessible in China because of a story that it published Friday. Tan did not elaborate.

Officials at several departments at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology either could not be reached or said they were not in charge of censorship of the Internet. This underscores a problem that companies face when their sites are blocked in China: it is unclear which government department to even approach to seek an explanation.

In a sign that censors were vigorously scrubbing the Internet to prevent circulation and discussion of the story within China, searches on the popular Twitter-like site Sina Weibo for Bloomberg's account and the company's full name in Chinese were blocked or partially censored. In searches that did go through using an abbreviation of the news agency's name, no results related to the Xi story appeared.

Among details revealed by Bloomberg were that most of Xi's extended family's assets it traced were owned by Xi's older sister Qi Qiaoqiao, her husband Deng Jiagui and her daughter.

The report said Deng held an indirect 18 percent stake in a rare-earths company while Qi and Deng held assets in a real estate and a diversified holding company called Shenzhen Yuanwei Investment Co. totaling 1.83 billion ($288 million), among other assets.