Report Says Dissident Under Cyber, Information Attack from China

Commission calls disinformation campaign 'unprecedented'

Guo Wengui / Ellen Dubin Photography

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China is engaged in an unprecedented campaign of cyber attacks and information operations aimed at discrediting Beijing critic Guo Wengui, according to a congressional report.

The campaign was outlined in the annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review commission, made public on Wednesday.

Guo, a billionaire real estate magnate who left China in 2015, has been publicizing what he says is high-level Chinese government corruption since early this year.

"Chinese state-run media called him a ‘criminal suspect' and launched an international publicity campaign, including releasing a videotaped confession by a former senior intelligence official accusing Mr. Guo of corruption and uploading videos to YouTube on a channel called ‘Truth about Guo Wengui,' to discredit him," the report said.

Additionally, China pressured U.S. social media to restrict or shut down Guo's Facebook and Twitter accounts and have restricted his ability to live-stream videos—the key vehicle he has used to expose Chinese corruption.

The report said the social media curbs raise concerns about pressure from Chinese officials on Guo.

"GreatFire, an anticensorship activism organization, claimed the Chinese government had targeted Mr. Guo's Twitter account with a direct denial of service (DDoS) attack," the report said. "Charlie Smith, GreatFire's cofounder, told the commission in September 2017 that this cyber attack was still ongoing."

According to the report, the campaign against Guo was described in a Hong Kong press report as "unprecedented" and "unusually sophisticated," and included having the international police organization Interpol, currently headed by a Chinese security official, issue a "red notice"—an unofficial call for arrest—for Guo.

The report said such notices are "politically motivated," according to Foreign Policy's Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, and are used by the governments of Russia, Turkey, and China against dissidents, activists, and journalists.

The Interpol red notice was issued after Guo had promised to reveal bombshell disclosures about Chinese government corruption and Allen-Ebrahimian said the timing suggests "China's motive is purely political and Interpol is in danger of becoming an extension of the increasingly long reach of the Chinese state."

The report quoted Xiao Qiang, editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese censorship, as telling the commission of the campaign against Guo that he had "never seen something like this."

In China, social media mentions of Guo have been heavily censored and according to FreeWeibo.com that monitors Chinese social media, Guo was the most censored topic for Chinese censors in April.

The report also noted the controversy over the Voice of America canceling a planned three-hour interview with Guo and abruptly canceling the interview after an hour and 20 minutes.

The report quoted VOA Mandarin service chief Sasha Gong as charging VOA management with caving in to Chinese government pressure to cut short the interview.

VOA this month began the process of firing Gong and two other employees involved in the interview over alleged violations of journalistic standards.

The report said the Chinese government in June began bringing charges against associates of Guo and went to unusual lengths to open the proceedings to the public as part of the information campaign.

China convicted three employees of Beijing Pangu Investment, a company owned by Guo, of fraud in September.

The report also noted that China pressured the conservative think tank Hudson Institute to cancel a planned speaking event with Guo.

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