China’s internet regulator has denounced its former boss, Lu Wei, who is under investigation for alleged corruption.
The Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement that Lu had damaged its image and jeopardised the Communist Party’s efforts to manage the internet.
Lu, who headed the organisation for three years until June 2016, was widely seen as the public face of China’s draconian control over the internet.
He was uncharacteristicly outspoken and straightforward among Chinese officials, according to analysts, regularly defending the ever-increasing censorship the cyberspace administration carried out on his watch.
The administration, however, has acted swiftly to distant itself from the former internet tsar after it was announced he had been detained on suspicion of “serious violations of party discipline”, a euphemism for graft or disloyalty.
“Lu Wei cannot represent the image of the CAC, but has in fact corrupted the image of the CAC,” the regulator said. The statement also expressed its “resolute support” for the party leadership’s decision to purge Lu.
Lu “severely polluted the political ecology of the CAC, severely damaged the image of the CAC and its team, severely jeopardised the party's efforts for the healthy development of the internet and he is a typical two-faced man”, the statement said.
The regulator pledged to “thoroughly root out the baneful influence” of Lu within the organisation and in the wider internet industry.
The 57-year-old was a controversial figure at home and abroad during his tenure as the country’s top internet regulator.
Within China, he was known as a hardline censor who oversaw a campaign to silence outspoken, influential commentators on social media, known as “big Vs” (for verified account).
The crackdown significantly diminished Weibo’s role as a vibrant platform for debate on social and political issues, including sensitive topics.
Abroad, Lu was known as the flamboyant gatekeeper of China’s internet, courted by the world’s most prominent technology executives including Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was listed by Time magazine in 2015 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
“Lu Wei was a very non-typical Chinese official: he was very outspoken and he was very flamboyant,” said Rogier Creemers, an expert in Chinese law and governance at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “In that sense he was unusual. In comparison, his successor Xu Lin is nearly completely invisible.”
Xu is viewed by analysts as a trusted protege of President Xi, having worked directly under him during Xi’s brief stint as Shanghai’s Communist Party chief in 2007.
Analysts suggest Lu’s downfall is unlikely to signal any change in the government’s tightening grip on the internet, illustrated by a slew of measures to increase censorship and control since his abrupt removal from the cyberspace administration last year.
The administration was criticised by China’s anti-corruption agency in April for failing to carry out President Xi Jinping’s internet directives on time and thoroughly.
Despite the ever-broader online censorship Lu had overseen, some party figures remained unimpressed with the regulator’s control over social media.
A descendant of a Communist revolutionary said he had reported Lu to the inspectors because the administration under his watch had failed to put an end to “the attack and discrediting” of revolutionary martyrs online.
Fang Huaqing, grandson of Fang Zhimin, a Communist political and military leader who died at the hands of the Nationalists in the 1930s, told social media account Dabaixinwen that he had sent a report letter to graft busters to complain about Lu during their inspection of the administration earlier this year.
Additional Reporting by Viola Zhou
This article China’s internet regulator denounces ex-boss Lu Wei facing graft probe first appeared on South China Morning Post