With downcast eyes and somber tone, the unshaven man in the faded green polo shirt speaks into the microphone in front of him.
His words, a confession, are slow but hit hard. He profusely regrets his actions. He wishes he never published the article. He begs for leniency from the authorities.
He never once looks into the camera that is pointed directly at his face.
His name is Wang Xiaolu.
His crime? To publish a news article in a respected Chinese business publication saying that the government was considering ending its artificial support for the country’s stock markets.
His arrest — and subsequent humiliating public confession on CCTV, the state channel — was one of almost 200 that followed a stock market crash over the last few months.
The severity of the crackdown shocked the world.
Yesterday one of the country’s most prominent fund managers re-emerged after disappearing for days following the crash, only to claim she had not been detained by authorities but instead had been “on holiday meditating.”
More questions are now being asked about Beijing’s handling of dissenting voices in the stock market.
China’s main index the Shanghai Composite has lost almost 40pc of its value since peaking on June 12.
When the market turmoil began, instructions were issued to media outlets not to “exaggerate panic or sadness,” and not to use “emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike’ or ‘collapse’ .”
The edict also warned news agencies not to “conduct in-depth analysis” into the crash. The warnings failed to stem the fall. State news agency Xinhua said that 200 people had been arrested in the wake of the most recent share rout — many from media organizations, who were accused of “rumor mongering” on the Internet.
“This looks like a vendetta,” David Bandurski from the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong told the Financial Times following the arrests. “This isn’t about the factual nature of his reporting, it’s about the political impact.”
It is not only media that have found themselves in the crosshairs. Broking firms, fund managers and even the stock market regulator have felt the hot breath of Beijing as authorities desperately try to pin the collapse of its flagship stock market on malevolent — not market — forces.
Yesterday even more questions emerged over the disappearance of one of the country’s leading fund managers.
For days the Chinese boss of Man Group, the world’s largest listed hedge fund, has been absent.
Li Yifei, a kung fu expert whose past jobs included working as a stunt double, vanished last week after a series of meetings. Her husband told the media she had gone on holiday — though refused to explain where, or why he was not with her. Reports emerged on financial news agency Bloomberg that she had been detained by police. Yesterday she re-emerged, and offered an unusual explanation for her activities over the last seven days. She attended meetings with “some clients” and had not been “detained or forced to attend any of the meetings.” But in an odd admission she said she did not know whether there were any government officials present.
She added: “I was tired after so many meetings [so]I took several days off to meditate since there was a [public]holiday, drinking vegetable juice, eating some nuts and climbing mountains. While I was having the break, I turned off the phone so I wasn’t aware of what was happening.”
Man Group is refusing to comment or to verify her account.
But what do the latest actions — or unanswered questions — mean for other British companies doing business in China? The China-British Business Council, which helps UK firms seeking to operate in the People’s Republic, has refused to comment or provide any information on the recent events.
Last week its website tried to reassure British companies that “we are learning very little new” about China “despite all the turbulence, gloom and speculation.”
International players in the Chinese market have plenty of examples to point to of heavy-handedness when things do not go according to plan.
The saga of Mark Reilly, the Glaxo executive who was arrested after returning to the country under the impression that his co-operation with a bribery investigation would earn him immunity from prosecution, still sits at the forefront of investors’ memories.
An executive at one British business with fledgling operations in China said: “We’re fully aware of the risk that one day we may have to stop doing business there.
“Companies looking to expand will be having second thoughts because of last week, definitely. If I was a top executive in China I wouldn’t want to be there right now.”
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