Missing Chinese billionaire's social media postings are deleted after businessman disappears

Authorities in Beijing have declined to comment on Mr Xiao's case

Julie Zhu
Venus Wu
Monday 06 February 2017 16:41 GMT
Social media posts about Xiao Jianhua have been deleted
Social media posts about Xiao Jianhua have been deleted (Associated Press)

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Scores of China social media postings about a well-connected billionaire who went missing from a Hong Kong hotel have been deleted.

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Xiao Jianhua, one of China's richest men who has close ties to some of its leaders and their relatives.

He was last seen at Hong Kong's Four Seasons hotel in late January and some media have suggested that he was abducted and taken to the mainland.

The case has echoes of the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers more than a year ago who had published books critical of China's leaders.

The booksellers' case raised concern about interference by Beijing in Hong Kong and the erosion of its freedoms, guaranteed under a 1997 deal that returned the former British colony to Chinese rule.

Authorities in Beijing have declined to comment on Mr Xiao's case. Hong Kong's government has also not commented while the city's police have said they are investigating and have approached Chinese authorities to ascertain his "situation in mainland China".

Mr Xiao's disappearance has sparked widespread media speculation that he has been drawn into Chinese President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption, which has ensnared a string of Chinese executives.

After his disappearance, a statement from him appeared on his company's verified WeChat account saying he had not been abducted and had not been taken to mainland China.

The statement added he was "currently abroad being medically treated". Hong Kong police say Mr Xiao crossed the border to mainland China.

When news of his disappearance in Hong Kong began breaking early last week, searches on Chinese search engines and social media for him generated many results, mostly links to reports related to statements he had issued via his company, Tomorrow Holdings, a financial group headquartered in Beijing.

But those posts and most reports related to Mr Xiao have disappeared, with search results only bringing up reports about him from several weeks earlier.

According to Freewechat.com, which tracks censored or deleted posts on China's biggest social network, WeChat, more than 40 articles with the keyword Xiao Jianhua had been censored since 30 January.

A similar number of reports with the word "Mingtianxi", which refers to Tomorrow Group and its subsidiaries, were also deleted.

Tencent Holdings Ltd, which operates WeChat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for Sina, which runs China's Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, said it censors and deletes posts according to its code of conduct. But the spokesman declined to comment on any deleted posts related to Xiao and his business ties.

More social media posts purportedly detailing Mr Xiao's business links with high-profile companies and senior leaders were also deleted over the weekend.

The Chinese government routinely censors the internet, blocking many sites it deems could challenge the rule of the Communist Party or threaten stability. China's internet regulator did not respond to a request for comment.

Shares in firms directly or indirectly controlled by Tomorrow Group slumped late last week, with Baotou Huazi Industry and Xishui Strong Year Co Ltd Inner Mongolia both down the maximum 10 per cent.

Xiao was ranked 32nd on the 2016 Hurun China rich list, China's equivalent of the Forbes list, with an estimated net worth of $5.97 billion (£4.8 billion).

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