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Editor of China’s Global Times retires, Hong Kong group claims removed for being ‘loose cannon’

According to a report by China Media Project, Hu Xijin was possibly removed for reasons stemming from 'unhappiness over his highly visible international remarks'.

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New Delhi: Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times who stepped down from his post Thursday, was possibly removed for reasons stemming from “unhappiness over his highly visible international remarks”, according to a report published by Hong Kong-based research organisation China Media Project (CMP) Thursday.

In a post published on his verified Weibo account around 9.30 am IST Thursday, Hu said that at the age of 62 “the time has come to retire”, but that he will continue as a special commentator for Global Times. He added that he will continue to “do my utmost for the news and public opinion work of the Party (the Communist Party of China)”.

However, unnamed sources were quoted by CMP as saying that “Hu was in fact removed for reasons that are not yet clear, perhaps stemming from unhappiness over his highly visible international remarks in recent days or weeks”.

The research firm also cited the kind of language used in a report by a Hong Kong daily about Hu’s retirement to argue that there could have been concerns regarding him being a “loose cannon”.

“A report yesterday in Hong Kong’s Tsingtao Daily News, shared by several other media, announced Hu’s pending retirement and said that the central leadership was keen to ‘strengthen [the paper’s] political guidance’. This language seemed to suggest there might be concerns at the top about Hu, or the Global Times, as loose cannons firing against the discipline coming from above,” stated the CMP report.

Hu’s departure will likely pave the way for the entry of top figures from People’s Daily, an official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. According to the CMP report, Wu Qimin, current international desk deputy head of People’s Daily, will likely replace Hu and a new position of director will be created and occupied by Fan Zhengwei, deputy head of the commentary department at People’s Daily.

“It might be that CCP leaders feel the Global Times is due for more ‘party spirit’ and a bit less Hu Xijin spirit,” wrote CMP.

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‘Hu’s remarks on Peng Shuai could have played a role’

Hu, who has championed China’s aggressive style of diplomacy known as “wolf warrior diplomacy”, has in the past been termed a “troll king”. In the wake of a case surrounding sexual allegations made by Chinese tennis player Peng Shaui against a retired, senior official of the Communist Party, for example, Hu accused Western forces of attempting to coerce the player and some institution into helping them “demonize China’s system”.

The CMP report further questioned if Hu’s recent comments about the tennis star were “a clumsy operation run from a back office at the Global Times” which didn’t sit well with powerful figures in the Chinese Communist Party.

The long-time editor has also courted controversy for making inflammatory statements such as saying the UK would be a “b*tch asking for a beating” if its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, in July this year.

In the past, Hu has also admitted that he intends to be adversarial at times. In a video posted on Weibo, he once said: “My English is almost all self-taught…and in English, I’m most skillful at picking a fight.”

In a recent interview to The Guardian, Xiao Qiang, an expert in Chinese media at Berkeley’s School of Information, credited Hu with successfully constructing “a whole style of authoritarian, nationalistic rhetoric”.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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