SHANGHAI — China has blocked the New York Times Web site after the newspaper published an extensive report detailing the wealth of the family of prime minister Wen Jiabao. 

Shortly after the story was published early Friday morning, both the English and the recently launched Chinese-language version of the Times’ Web site were inaccessible from Mainland China. The article details how Wen’s family has controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

China’s Foreign Ministry declined to respond to enquiries about the blockage of the site. During a news conference Friday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “relevant press reports are intended to tarnish China’s image and have ulterior motives.”  

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The wealth and luxury spending of officials has become an increasingly hot, yet extremely sensitive, topic in China as the government prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is scheduled to occur in November. A slowing economy, combined with an increasing gap between the rich and poor, have also brought the fortunes of Chinese leaders to the forefront of public scrutiny.

Earlier in October, a newspaper in the southern province of Yunnan had to throw away hundreds of thousands of copies containing an article about the luxury consumption of a government official from neighboring Fujian Province, after the local government pressured the paper to cancel the publication of the story.

In June, China blocked the Web site of Bloomberg News after the agency published an article detailing the family fortune of vice president Xi Jingping, who is slated to take over as president during the leadership transition next month.

China has a history of blocking foreign and domestic Web sites with content that is critical of the government, deemed harmful to society or otherwise sensitive.

One of the most high-profile cases of Internet censorship occurred in 2010, when Google announced that it would no longer block certain search terms on its Chinese site. Its inability to reach an agreement with Chinese authorities over searches made from China eventually prompted the Internet giant to cease its services there.

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