In which direction is China moving politically? How does China really look upon the West? What is the Communist Party’s greatest fear? Today, the Danish daily Information is in a position to expose the content of a number classified documents from China’s top leadership. Together, they provide an extremely rare glimpse into the thoughts and plans at the top echelon of the giant country’s central power.
In a highly unusual move in China, the documents that shed unprecedented light behind the curtains of the power apparatus, have been made available to Information from a source that declares itself ”to be in disagreement with China’s present political orientation”.
The very voices of the Chinese top leaders that are spelt out in these documents. Many of the leaked documents, 60 pages in all, stem from the party’s Central Committee, the highest authority within the party, and according to Professor Bo Zhiyue from the National University of Singapore, ”these documents would have been approved at a place as high as the politburo’s standing committee” whose members are China’s nine most powerful men, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Other documents are from the party’s powerful Central Propaganda Bureau and the Beijing city party leadership.
From time to time, isolated documents from Chinese local governments are leaked to the internet, but it is unusual for a foreign media outlet to get access to a batch of documents from such a top level in China‘s otherwise tightly controlled system.
”Leaks of this type are extremely rare,” says David Bandurski, a researcher in Chinese media and party propaganda at the Hong Kong University.
The leaked documents that originate from the period between late January and mid-March this year expose the regime’s attempts in influencing public opinion within the country, and provide insight into what appears to be a deliberate Chinese double-dealing. The overall picture suggests that cold political winds are currently blowing in Beijing, where the leadership seems intent on tightening its grip on the people.
Bao Pu, a publisher based in Hong Kong, who is well known for his revealing books on power struggles in the Communist Party’s recent past, describes the documents as a ”smoking gun”. He considers that this exposure will make it very difficult for party to credibly persist in its its attempts to maintain a polished facade to the outside and to deny accusations of duplicity and assaults on civil liberties.
”For a long time, we have been able to witness how the Chinese government is acting against its own citizens and abroad, but here are the party’s own unfiltered words that prove it all,” he says. ”The contents of these documents will be of great interest to many Chinese since it confirms what they already suspected.”
However, Bao Pu expresses some doubt, as to whether there will be any public reaction to the leak from the Chinese regime, although it most likely will highly ”compromised” by the unveiling of the content of these documents. ”If there comes any reaction at all, it will probably be a condemnation of the leak followed by an assertion that the documents are all false. At the same time, they will strive to identify the origin of the leaks and punish its source. It goes without saying that they will deploy censorship measures in order to make sure that the informations in the documents do not reach the Chinese people through the Internet”, he says.
The source who leaked the documents to the Information shall, of course, remain anonymous, in view of the fact that leaks of this type in China can result in long prison sentences. The source has vouched for the authenticity of all documents and to the extent possible, Information has aimed to ascertain that all documents are genuine. Submitted to varying degrees of insight or access the to documents, one Chinese and several foreign experts have independently expressed either that they are ”confident” about the authenticity or that the documents appear ”credible”.
The documents are provided with unique numbers and barcodes that among other things could be used to trace the source of a leak. Each of the documents have been labeled ”classified” – a concept which according to Chinese applies to ”regular state secrets whose disclosure could cause harm to national security and national interests.”
The documents in question usually circulate among a limited number of senior members of the Communist Party. Their task is to convey the political line expressed in document down through the system and give the necessary orders to ensure that the Party leadership’s demands for greater control will be implemented.
The documents also indicate how high up in the system‘s hierarchy an official should rank to have permission to read the content. Some documents are available for just 1,450 people, others for about 7,000 people – equivalent to less than 0.1 per thousand of the nearly 80 million members of the Communist Party.
For the sake of comparison, a large portion of the leaked U.S. diplomatic telegrams, which were published last year by Wikileaks, werefreely available to over 2.5 million U.S. officials before the leak, and even leaked documents classified as ”top secret” were available for 850,000 persons.
”It's very unusual that there is a leak of documents from such a high place in the Chinese system,” says Bao Pu. ”At this level, everybody is usually very good at keeping their secrets.”
Within the party elite, there is widespread nervousness about the fact that ordinary citizens will gain insight into the party‘s secrets, and that disloyal persons from the system should disseminate classified documents outside the party’s inner circle. For the Communist Party, information control is a matter of regime survival. Free information and free press will lead to a ”national collapse”, an article in the party’s own journal, Search for the Truth, stated last year.
When the U.S. diplomatic cables were leaked by WikiLeaks, China’'s propaganda apparatus reacted with a blocking of Wikileaks’ website. At the same time, Chinese media were instructed not to report on the cable revelations, especially those that referred to China.
This shows how much discomfort was generated by a web site project that aims to disclose communications on a government level in a Chinese leadership that has grown accustomed to keep information within a closed circle.
”They are nervous that it might undermine the party’s grip on power,” says Bao Pu. ”Consequently they are severely cracking down on all leaks and punishing the people behind them”.
And the penalty can be very tough, indeed. Among the most notorious cases involving leaks of classified Chinese documents is the case in 2005 against the Chinese journalist Shi Tao who had e-mailed a email a document from the government which outlined the governments’s ban on media coverage of sensitive political events to a foreign human rights organization. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
The following year, Zhao Yan, a researcher from the New York Times, was sentenced to three years in prison after being accused of leaking state secrets about former President Jiang Zemin’s retirement plans.
Information's reporter has presented the sources in this news story with summary and quotes from the content of the document files in question. Sources have not actually seen the files.