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Releases by WikiLeaks Intensify China Feud

September 20, 2011

Blogger Calls Sociologist a U.S. Government Informant, Sparking a Heated Online Debate and Demand for an Apology


BEIJING—An outspoken Chinese sociologist whose name appears in U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks is at the center of a heated online debate in China after a prominent blogger accused him of being a U.S. government informant and "hypocritical."

Police in eastern China in February checked a microblog Yu Jianrong founded to post information to help recover missing children.

Yu Jianrong, a professor at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who was among dozens of Chinese sources named in the unredacted cables the website posted, used his popular Twitter-like microblog Saturday to acknowledge and defend his contacts with U.S. diplomats.

He also demanded an apology on Monday from Fang Zhouzi, a popular blogger who focuses on exposing academic fraud and criticized Prof. Yu through his microblog on Saturday, and again Tuesday in an article in the Global Times, a popular state-run newspaper.

The dispute highlights the risks facing those exposed by WikiLeaks in China, where harsh prison sentences have been given in the past to people found guilty of leaking "state secrets"—an ill-defined term that covers any information the Communist Party deems sensitive.

Even if the sources escape official punishment, they risk being vilified by a large and vocal segment of Chinese Internet users who are nationalistic.

The controversy could also compound fears among many U.S. diplomats that they will find it increasingly hard to arrange meetings with well-informed Chinese sources willing to talk openly about potentially controversial issues.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment on the specific content of leaked material.

"Any unauthorized disclosure of classified information by WikiLeaks has harmful implications for the lives of identified individuals that are jeopardized, but also for global engagement among and between nations," an embassy spokesman said. "Given its potential impact, we condemn such unauthorized disclosures and are taking every step to prevent future security breaches."

Among the sources quoted discussing sensitive information with U.S. officials in China are a former Google Inc. executive, a former executive at a U.S. private-equity fund and the nephew of a member of the party's Politburo Standing Committee, its top decision-making body.

The sources also include Tibetan monks, human-rights lawyers and others closely monitored by China's security services.

Prof. Yu, who has more than a million followers on his microblog, is named in at least 18 of the unredacted cables released last month.

He is labeled "strictly protect" in a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing dated Feb. 12, 2009, in which he is quoted telling U.S. officials that rural conflicts were occurring on a daily basis nationwide.

The cable attracted little attention in China until Saturday, when Prof. Yu came under fire from Mr. Fang, with whom he has had a personal feud since 2005, when Mr. Fang accused Prof. Yu of academic misconduct.

"Yu talked with them just once and became 'strictly protected'," Mr. Fang wrote on his microblog, which has 1.1 million followers, also posting screenshots of the leaked documents.

He suggested sarcastically that two other Chinese individuals labeled only as "protect" would be jealous of Prof. Yu.

Mr. Fang's post quickly stirred a furious debate among Chinese Internet users, and prompted Prof. Yu to respond later Saturday, saying: "I absolutely believe in the abilities of China's state security ministry—it would not have missed such a big case."

He also said colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences attended his meetings with U.S. officials.

Mr. Fang "must apologize" for portraying him as a U.S. informant, Prof. Yu wrote on Monday.

But Mr. Fang resumed his attack on Prof. Yu on Tuesday, telling the Global Times: "I want to mock him. I think he is very hypocritical, and now he turns into an incarnation of social justice."

The debate appears to stem less from any official attempt to penalize Prof. Yu, than from the feud between the two men.

No evidence has been made public yet of a U.S. government source facing official sanction in China after being exposed by WikiLeaks.

Current and former U.S. diplomats said many of their Chinese contacts aren't just authorized, but specifically mandated, to meet them and elaborate on China's position on issues of bilateral interest.

Officials, academics from big state-run think tanks, journalists from prominent state media and executives from big state-run companies normally require permission from their superiors to meet foreign officials.

However, some contacts, especially more-liberal academics and business figures, are willing to meet independently and to criticize the government or discuss politically sensitive matters such as the top leadership.

The former Google executive, for example, is quoted as telling U.S. officials that Li Changchun, the media chief on the Politburo Standing Committee, was behind government pressure on Google in 2009 to censor its website.

When reached for comment, the executive said the contents of the cable were inaccurate.

The nephew of another Standing Committee member is also quoted as saying a cyberattack on Google's computer network in 2009 was overseen by Mr. Li and Zhou Youngkang, the security chief on the Standing Committee. Messrs. Li and Zhou couldn't be reached for comment.

Google blamed China in 2010 for a cyberattack on its computer networks the year before. Beijing has denied any involvement in the attack.

The former U.S. private-equity executive, meanwhile, is quoted as saying, among other things, that Mr. Li suffered liver cancer and was disliked by Hu Jintao, the current president and party chief, because of differing views over political overhauls.

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