Chinese newspaper Global Times has hit back against “overseas anti-China forces” for attempting to help the son of a detained human rights lawyer flee to the US via southeast Asia.

The newspaper, run by state-owned People’s Daily, also attacked “anti-China websites and Western mainstream media” for “hyping up the story” after the teenager was arrested and deported back to China.

Bao Zhuoxuan, the 16-year-old child of detained prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu and activist Bao Longjun, was taken away by uniformed men from a hotel in a China-Myanmar border town last week, the New York Times reported.

Bao Zhuoxuan (left) and her mother Wang Yu (right). Photo: HKFP.

Bao, who was planning to travel to the US via Thailand with the help of several family friends, was deported back to China where he is under house arrest, according to the Times.

In a report published on Thursday, Global Times said the New York Times and other Western media made the story up to “attract eyeballs.”

“Stories like this will no doubt attract the attention of many people who don’t know the truth. [They also] blacken China’s image immensely.”

The Chinese newspaper said its reporters heard “the real story” from Chinese police. According to Global Times, an “anti-China” group in the US “conspired to smuggle” Bao out of China. The teenager was then detained by Myanmar police and handed back to Chinese authorities, Global Times said.

The report said Bao, and two adults who accompanied him, confessed to illegally crossing the border.

Global Times article titled “Anti-China forces abduct son of rights lawyer, [try to] smuggle him to US – Chinese police.” Photo: Sina News.

The story attracted over 20,000 comments on mainland news portal Sina as of Thursday afternoon. However, only about 200 were displayed.

Aftershocks of a nationwide crackdown

Global Times said Bao’s detained parents did not know of their son’s plan to flee. Bao’s mother Wang Yu “condemned overseas organisations and people” for “hyping up her arrest” whilst Bao’s father, Bao Longjun, “regretted” the “harm” done to his son by “organisations and people unknown to him,” Global Times said.

Wang, Bao and their son were arrested in July as part of an unprecedented nationwide crackdown on civil rights activists and their lawyers in China. Over 200 people have been taken into police custody, according to Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.

Wang is known for defending Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison on separatism charges. She was abducted in Beijing in July after police cut off the power and internet in her home. Her husband and son were taken away from Beijing airport before they could embark on a trip to Australia where the junior Bao was set to study.

The 16-year-old was later released but his passport was revoked, making it impossible for him to reach the US by any route other than via a politically unstable area on the China-Myanmar border, the New York Times cited activist Zhou Fengshuo as saying. Zhou, who lives in San Francisco, was involving in helping the junior Bao escape.

Zhou could not be reached for comment via his cell phone on Thursday.

US Response

Washington has called on Beijing to end the house arrest of Bao and to release his parents without condition. The US is “concerned” about Bao’s case and the crackdown on human rights lawyers, said Spokesperson John Kirby of the US State Department on Wednesday.

“If Bao Zhuoxuan’s family wishes him to study abroad like hundreds of thousands of other Chinese students, China should permit him to leave the country.” Kirby said in a regular press conference.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.