The rumors appear to have started following reports on Aug. 28 which cited Ming Pao, a Hong Kong-based news agency, saying that because of an approximately $430 billion loss on U.S. Treasury bonds, the Chinese government may punish some individuals within the PBC, including Zhou. Although Ming Pao on Aug. 30 published a report on its website indicating that the prior report was fabricated by a mainland news site that had attributed the false information to Ming Pao, rumors of Zhou’s defection have spread around China intensively, and Zhou’s name has been blocked from Internet search engines in China.
STRATFOR has received no confirmation of the rumor, and reports by state-run Chinese media appeared to send strong indications that Zhou is in no trouble at the moment. However, the release of this rumor and its dispersion throughout the public is significant, particularly as the Communist Party of China (CPC) is preparing for a leadership transition in 2012.
Chinese state-run media and official government websites have run several high-profile reports about Zhou, which should be seen as an attempt to refute the rumors. The PBC website published two articles on its homepage reporting on Zhou’s meeting with visiting Japanese Financial Services Minister Shozaburo Jimi during the third China-Japan high-level economic dialogue as well as a meeting with an Italian delegation. Xinhua news agency reported that Zhou told the PBC Party Committee Enlargement meeting on Aug. 30 it should “continue to implement justice and strengthen legislative work in the financial system.” Prior to this news, Zhou appeared at the 2nd annual conference of the heads of the Chinese, Japanese and Korean central banks held on Aug. 3, and his most recent public appearance was Aug. 10 for China’s Financial System Anti-corruption Construction Exhibition.
Zhou is known to have lofty political ambitions and is believed to be a close ally to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, as well as a core figure for Jiang’s “Shanghai Gang.” There has been no shortage of rumors about Zhou’s possible dismissal in the past five years, as he is believed to be associated with several high-level financial scandals.
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