The South China Morning Post (SCMP) has retracted a commentary piece alleging links between a Singaporean investor and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At 3:58am on Thursday, it was replaced with a clarification stating that Shirley Yam’s piece was deleted as it included “multiple unverifiable insinuations.”

“We apologise to our readers for this regrettable misstep, and will examine and improve our editorial process as a result,” the message read, stating that the paper was committed to covering controversial topics.

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A pedestrian walks past a closed newsstand designed with the logo of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in Hong Kong on December 12, 2015. File photo: Anthony Wallace.

The Money Matters column was entitled “How’s the ‘Singaporean’ investor in The Peninsula’s holding company linked to Xi Jinping’s right-hand man?” and attributed some of its reporting to an Apple Daily investigation.

‘Intriguing, if not stunning’

The initial publication of the story received praise on social media. In his Sinocism newsletter on Thursday, American author and China commentator Bill Bishop said he did not know whether the Post was pressured to remove it.

“It was a strange column, seemed heavy on unverified information from a Chinese-language publication in Hong Kong. It certainly set off lots of talk of factional fighting and using these claims as a way to show Xi that if he keeps taking out officials like Sun Zhengcai ‘his people’ are vulnerable too,” he wrote.

However, former director of the University of Hong Kong journalism school Ying Chan said in a public Facebook post that the removal was “intriguing, if not stunning.”

“Are there factual errors in the piece? Is the Post setting a new standard for opinionated columns?” she wrote.

An SCMP spokesperson told Mumbrella Asia that the decision to retract the piece was made “purely on editorial standards.”

It comes a week after Forbes magazine raised eyebrows for deleting a column criticising Hong Kong tycoon and Asia Society co-chair Ronnie Chan.

HKFP has contacted Ms Yam for comment.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.