A former publicity czar of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and a key official in implementing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s cybersecurity policy is being probed for “severe discipline violations”, the party’s anti-corruption agency has announced.
Lu Wei, the former vice-chief of the publicity department of the CPC, is under probe, a statement released by the party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI) said. Lu, 57, who was also the cyberspace administration chief, “severely violated Party discipline”, the statement said.
Violation of party discipline in the CPC parlance means charges like corruption, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. Lu was taken away by investigators late last week. “Along with six other people, either his colleagues or family members, Lu Wei has been taken away for investigation a few days ago,” it quoted well-placed sources as saying. Lu’s secretary, driver and two medium-ranking officials were also questioned, the report said.
This is the first high-profile case since the CPC’s last month’s Congress, which endorsed a second five-year term for Xi, 64, elevating him as the most powerful leader after CPC founder Mao Zedong. Thousands of CPC, as well as military officials, including the former security czar under the previous president Hu Jintao, were probed and punished in Xi’s first five-year anti-graft campaign amid allegations that he also made deft use of it to consolidate his hold on the party.
Lu was regarded as a crucial official in the implementation of Xi’s cybersecurity policy and held sway over 730 million Chinese internet users virtually dictating the daily content for them to access while blocking any matter regarded as offensive to the CPC’s interests through the massive internet firewalls.
Lu once famously sat on Zuckerberg’s seat during a visit to the Facebook founder’s office, which later went viral. That apart, Lu rubbed shoulders with Tim Cook of Apple and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who wooed the Chinese government to gain entry into the massive Chinese market. Facebook, Twitter as well as Google remained banned in China.
Lu parried criticism about the ban on Facebook, saying, “I have never said Facebook couldn’t enter China. Nor did I say it could enter China.” As the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China and its predecessor organisation from 2013 to 2016, Lu was a crucial official in the implementation of President Xi Jinping’s cybersecurity policy. He acted as a gatekeeper for foreign technology companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.
Lu’s abrupt removal from the helm of the internet regulator in June 2016 – keeping only his party post as a deputy chief of the propaganda department without a portfolio – had fuelled speculation over his political fate, the Post report said. The report compared Lu’s downfall to that of Yang Huanning, a former work safety department chief, raising the possibility that Lu could face disciplinary action but ultimately escape prosecution.
Yang, after a three-month investigation, was removed from office, had his official rank reduced to a lower grade and was placed on probation by the party for two years. Lu made his last public appearance on September 30, when he, along with Jiangxi provincial party boss Lu Xingshe and governor Liu Qi, visited Jinggangshan, one of the most popular revolutionary bases for the CPC.
Unlike other senior deputy heads of the central publicity department, Lu did not make it into the party’s elite Central Committee at last month’s leadership reshuffle at the Congress. Lu’s successor at the Cyberspace Administration, Xu Lin, is a full member of the committee.