While the Panama Papers disclosed the secret offshore wealth of many high and mighty, in China the disclosures became an opportunity for muzzling media using censorship tools to block foreign media and news outlets that mention the scandal.
As a result, if you search “Panama” in China, a message will be “no relevant results.” Officially too, China’s foreign ministry has dismissed reports of the Panama Papers as “groundless accusations.”
In China, the Panama disclosure hit hard on the domestic anti-corruption warrior, President Xi Jinping, as he and many top leaders were named in it.
It shocked the world as Communist leaders with their abnegation of capitalism were seen trying to stash away national wealth and hoarding them in tax havens.
According to Sarah Cook, director of the China Media Bulletin at Freedom House, censorship in China is nothing new and revelations that members of China’s top leadership operate offshore shell corporations was not that surprising, reports PRI.
She said most striking was not only Xi implicated but many members of the Politburo Standing Committee of China’s Communist Party are also in the dock.
“It’s not only people who might be considered Xi’s allies, but it’s also several people who might think, in terms of factional infighting, as being his rivals,” Cook says.
Meanwhile, the censorship will see to it that ordinary Chinese people never learn the revelations in the Panama Papers. The Chinese censors are working overtime to block all information about the leak.
It was funny to see Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, reporting the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister without mentioning anything about the “Panama reason” that led to his exit.
Meanwhile, The Guardian carried more details of Chinese censoring to stonewall the Panama Papers disclosures about China. The report mentioned an official directive asking for scrubbing out all information that suggested top leaders have stashed away wealth in secret offshore companies.
The directive asked news organisations to purge reports, blogs, bulletin boards and comments on the sensitive Panama revelations.
“Please self-inspect and delete all content related to the ‘Panama Papers’ leak,” the order said according to China Digital Times, a website run by the University of California, Berkeley.
Already the broadcasts of BBC and CNN have been blocked in mainland China. Among the news sites blocked in China included The Guardian’s website, which was partially blocked on Thursday and that of The Economist and Time magazine for articles that were critical of Xi Jinping.
Cook said the leaks and frantic censoring exposed the fear and insecurity harboured by China’s wealthiest and topmost leaders.
“They want to hedge their bets and so they don’t want to keep their money within China,” she said.