A Chinese airline has dismissed as “rumour” a social media story that one of its cabin crew was ordered by a branch secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to entrap two high-ranking officials in a sexual scandal.
“We have taken note of rumours that are circulating about such unsavoury text messages sent to one of our employees,” Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines said on Friday in a statement on its official Weibo account.
“Following verification, we can confirm that these claims were purposefully fabricated and are malicious slander,” the statement said.
The statement came after screenshots of chat messages circulated online in which a provincial-level CCP official named Tian from Jiangsu was shown to have asked China Eastern cabin crew member Ni Gaoping to set a honey trap for another official.
Ni, a manager in China Eastern’s cabin crew division who has been named a “model worker,” was the victim of the incident, according to China Eastern, and has since reported the incident to the police.
When contacted by RFA on April 22, a police officer who answered the phone at the Hongqiao Airport police station, where Ni filed her complaint, declined to comment.
Several calls to China Eastern Airlines’ Jiangsu branch’s offices, including the publicity department, went unanswered on April 22.
According to a source familiar with the situation, “Tian” may refer to Tian Hong, the current party branch secretary of China Eastern’s Jiangsu division.
Several screenshots of related chat exchanges had been circulating online since April 22, attached to a post stating that Ni had been directed to approach and contact the high-ranking official, surnamed Qiu.
Explicit screenshots allegedly of a subsequent conversation with Qiu and a second, high-ranking figure in aviation had also circulated before being deleted, according to the source.
According to a journalist who only gave his surname Yang, the story quickly went viral on China’s tightly regulated social media platforms.
“The content was extremely common,” Yang said. “We don’t know if Qiu came from [the airline’s] Shanghai headquarters or the Civil Aviation Administration of China.”
“This is so common; it happens all the time,” he explained. “It’s just that this time, someone made it public.”
Chen Jun, the owner of the blogging site Jinrizhiyi.com, said that the authorities were eager to remove any mention of the viral storey.
Chen said that he got a call from Kou Lingnan at the CCP branch office inside China Eastern Airlines’ Jiangsu division requesting that he remove the message. ”
It was mentioned that if Chen didn’t play ball, he would have a difficult time running a media company in Jiangsu in the future.
“There is certainly a lot of pressure,” Chen admitted. “The CCP office at China Eastern Airlines informed me that this matter had had too much of an impact, but they did not claim it was a hoax.”
“Then I discovered today that Cyberspace Administration officials from my hometown were attempting to reach me,” he said. “They’re attempting to bully me; it’s a common tactic for them to get posts removed.”