David Barboza Answers Reader Questions on Reporting in China – NYTimes.com
As the NY Times’s Shanghai bureau chief, I assume you are a China old hand. I’m curious about what prompted you to write this article? What was your rationale for the timing of this article? Have you ever got a feeling of being used? — Casablanca
I have been in China since 2004, and as a correspondent for the Business section, I have focused my reporting energies on economic, financial and business issues. Throughout my tenure in China there has been a lot of discussion about whether the families of high-ranking government officials have benefited from the country’s economic transformation by receiving so-called secret shares in corporations. This is a regular topic of dinner conversation when bankers, lawyers and accountants gather in Shanghai and Beijing. I had been told many times that this is typically done by using “nominee investors,” friends or people not easily identifiable in the shareholder records as having ties to politicians. These nominees, I was told, often hold shares for the relatives of powerful politicians, giving them a stake in a company.
About a year ago, as I was reporting a series of articles about China’s state-managed economy, I decided to see if there was any evidence behind the theory. I started looking into the business ties of several high-ranking leaders. Anyone who knows business and finance in China knows that the conjecture about the prime minister’s relatives was particularly persistent, so my focus eventually narrowed on the Wen family. I knew this would be a time-consuming and difficult task, but I was determined to answer this question. I plowed in, and to my great surprise found that there was a tremendous amount of information available in the public record. My reporting did not find illegality or corruption. It did reveal the names of Mr. Wen’s relatives hidden behind dozens of investment vehicles that few people had ever heard of.