China Aerospace Investment Holdings chairman in custody after two academics assaulted

Boffins in hospital, official goes to work as normal until social media blows up

The head of China Aerospace Investment Holdings has been taken into police custody after a video showing two senior scientists being attacked went viral on China's microblogging site Weibo and TenCent's WeChat last week.

Reports soon came out that the pair were so badly beaten they remain hospitalised a month later. Zhang Tao, who is alleged to have been the assailant, appeared unscathed in his position at the company. But now the internet is scratching their heads – why did this incident take so long to gain public attention or any apparent action to be taken?

According to a police report, on 6 June, chairman and Chinese Communist Party secretary of China Aerospace Investment Holdings Zhang Tao was dining with 55-year-old Wang Jinnian and 86-year-old Wu Meirong when Zhang was claimed to have "quarrelled" with the pair. The argument, according to news reports, was allegedly due to Zhang pressuring the pair to recommend him for membership in the Stockholm-based International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

Both Wang and Wu belong to the organisation, which grants membership to individuals who have distinguished themselves in astronautics or other fields related to space exploration.

According to reports in Chinese state run media, after the scientists denied his request, the chairman allegedly became angry, and ultimately escorted the pair back to Wang's home, where the attack, in a hallway monitored by a security camera, took place.

A video alleged to be of the attack was widely disseminated on social media.

On 2 July, journalists from state-run China News Weekly visited Zhang's office to find he was still employed, although out of the office. While Zhang continued working in his normal capacity almost a month after the incident, the news outlet reported that the academics were still in the hospital recovering from the assault.

Wu, 86, is said to have suffered fractures in her spine that required surgery and Wang, 55, is alleged to have sustained rib fractures and soft tissue injuries. China News Weekly reported the security footage includes Wang in a chokehold at one point.

Graphic images of the assault blew up on social media. Parent company China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation's (CASC) social media posts celebrating the country's space achievements were flooded with questions about the attack. Many wanted to know why it took so long for the story to come to light.

CASC released a statement firewalled in some countries, but accessible in Hong Kong. When translated to English through automated tools, the 4 July text reads:

Since the incident of [alleged] drunk beatings by Comrade Zhang Tao, Secretary of the Party Committee and Chairman of the Aerospace Investment Holding Co., Ltd., the China Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. party group has attached great importance to it and made the decision to suspend the performance of Comrade Zhang Tao and cooperate with the investigation.

The state-owned Fortune 500 company also said it was investigating the incident and will respond accordingly to the investigation's result before thanking netizens for their attention.

The day after CASC released a statement, local police described the incident on Weibo in detail, adding "Based on the facts... and injury identification, on July 5, the Chaoyang Public Security Bureau criminally detained Zhang in accordance with the law. Currently, the case is under investigation."

CASC responded a version of the following in Mandarin:

China Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. firmly supports the public security organs to deal with it in accordance with the law, and will never tolerate it.

The statements and public attention occur within a week of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and China's second spacewalk.

CASC is also known as one of the entities named in the November 2020 executive order barring US-based companies from investing in Chinese technology companies that finance communist military outfits. ®

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