Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Unwarranted Attacks

Lee Kai-fu is a brilliant tech innovator who established Google China
Lee Kai-fu is an influential man in China. He was the former head of Google China and after he left the search engine (and just before its troubles with the Chinese government began), he became a venture capitalist with Innovation Works funding start ups. The 51-year-old pretty much speaks his mind, particularly on how restricting China's controls are on the internet.

Born in Taiwan, Lee studied in the United States, worked at Apple and then moved to China in 1998 with Microsoft, then founded Google China, and the mainland has claimed him as one of their own, and through social media, people listen to what he says because he has almost 52 million followers on Sina Weibo. That's more than the population of Spain and Canada.

But last month Lee abruptly announced that he had lymphoma and would go home to Taiwan to receive treatment.

Many of his fans were upset, and posted messages of encouragement and best wishes for a healthy recovery.

However now Lee is on the receiving end of scathing attacks thanks to a recent post by Zhou Xiaoping, who wrote an article in a magazine by the Chinese Communist Party's Propaganda Department.

Among his criticisms, Zhou says Lee faked his cancer diagnosis so that he could go back to Taiwan, and that he is a "loser" because he favours the public harassment of girls.

The article is called "Zhou Xiaoping's 10 Questions for Lee Kai-fu". Some of the questions are:

  • Google.cn did evil for many years, with backdoor programs that stole netizens' information, and bank and credit card information. As the head of the company at the time, how do you see that?
  • What is your real connection to Taiwan and Tibetan independence forces?
  • Why are the young people whom you favour "those who hate the motherland?

The interesting thing is that this article, which was first published in Dangjian magazine last week now has a life of its own, republished in several Chinese internet portals. The strange thing is that no one really knows who Zhou is, and yet he's allowed to be unleashed like a wild cannon making unsubstantiated criticisms.

Some China analysts are speculating the attacks have been given blessings from higher ups and is an attempt to silence what are called "Big Vs", or influential people on social media sites as a way to control them and the opinions they post.

One recent example is Chinese American venture capitalist billionaire Charles Xue who was charged with having sex with a prostitute, and for this he was shown on television in orange prison garb confessing to this transgression. Which other businessmen have not had their frolics with hookers in China?

In any event, Lee has not responded to this vicious attack on him, which he could sue for libel, but this doesn't carry much weight in China. Lee's assistant has said his boss is sick and should focus on his treatment.

It is chilling but also sad to see the senior leadership condoning these personal attacks after all Lee has done for China and the Chinese diaspora.

You never really know what side you're on with Beijing despite years of cultivating relationships -- it can change its mind about you in a blink of an eye and you'll never know why.

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