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China’s former internet tsar Lu Wei comes out of the shadows after three months – in new role

China’s former internet tsar Lu Wei has been seen in public again in a new role – three months after losing his previous job.

Less than a year ago, Lu was giving a speech in Zhejiang province on China’s solution to global internet governance to about 2,000 politicians and business executives from around the world at the closing ceremony of the government-organised World Internet Conference.

His speech was considered the second most important, behind the opening remarks made by President Xi Jinping.

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But when Lu, 56, was seen in Zhejiang last month, with a different job title, he had no red carpet to greet him. The local Communist Party boss and Zhejiang’s governor shunned him during his three-day visit – despite the established protocol in China of regional chiefs to receive cadres sent there from Beijing.

Lu’s removal from his role of director of the Cyberspace Administration in June surprised many as he was trusted by Xi. The president, as founder and chairman of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, had installed Lu as director of the general office of the group in 2014.

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The quiet reappearance of Lu, who is still a deputy in the party’s Central Publicity Department, came while he touredprovinces as head of a research division at the Central Leading Group for United Front Work. The group is responsible for courting elite figures outside the party, including those in business, academia, cultural spheres and the Taiwanese community.

Lu’s new job was far less important than before, Beijing political commentator Zhang Lifan said. “The internet is considered the party’s main tool for frontline struggles … What Lu’s doing looks like a job for a semi-retired official,” Zhang said.

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Lu was one of very few division heads not received by provincial chiefs during the latest tours, which started in late August.

Xia Baolong, Zhejiang’s party chief, and the province’s governor Li Qiang, were both in Zhejiang to receive guests from neighbouring Jiangsu province at the time Lu was in the province, official reports said. The chiefs of all the other provinces had met the heads of the other inspection divisions, the reports added.

“It looks like they intentionally avoided him,” Zhang said. “Lu was a rising star before. The cadres might have a better idea of why he was removed from his original post.”

Lu’s successor Xu Lin, who had been appointed as his deputy in July last year, previously worked as Shanghai’s publicity chief.

Xu is regarded as one of Xi’s key supporters, having worked as a standing committee member of Shanghai’s Communist Party when Xi was its chief.

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Lu, in charge of controlling the internet since 2013, had launched the government’s massive ­campaign to clamp down on what it regarded as rumour-mongers. This coincided with the hunting down of a couple of opinion leaders on criminal charges, ­ranging from running ­illegal businesses to ­carrying out obscene acts.