A Chinese newspaper editor has left his job after comments were posted to his paper's official microblog mocking the ruling Communist Party's insistence that it maintain control of the nation's military.
Yu Chen confirmed Sunday that he was no longer the Southern Metropolitan's in-depth editor. He declined to discuss the reason or other details in a sign of the sensitivity of the matter.
"Let's just leave it at that," Yu told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
However, activist friend Hu Jia said Yu told him he stepped down after the remarks were posted by an unknown person, a claim repeated by online media based overseas. The remarks said sarcastically that if the party insists on full control over the military, then the people should have the right to form their own army.
The People's Liberation Army was established in 1927 to battle Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in China's 22-year civil war. After largely sitting out Japan's World War II invasion, it re-emerged to lead the communists to victory in 1949 and has remained the party's house army ever since, defending its interests during the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and in suppressing pro-democracy protests in 1989.
While the comments posted to the newspaper's microblog weren't directly attributed to Yu, authorities often hold editors and webmasters responsible for content and comments posted to their sites and expect offending material to be swiftly removed. That's part of the vast network of online supervision that is believed to include thousands of people policing the Internet and blocks on politically sensitive websites and banned search terms.
The incident underscores the Communist Party's concerns over scattered calls to place the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army under government, rather than party, control. Such a move could substantially diminish the party's overall influence over Chinese society and weaken its hold on the ultimate lever of control.
State media issue frequent calls rejecting nationalization of the army and telling serving military members to devote their highest loyalty to the party.
Yu spent years covering blood buying rings blamed for spreading AIDS, and it wasn't clear whether he was leaving the newspaper. A switchboard operator said he remained listed as the in-depth editor.
The Southern Metropolitan and its sister papers are known for their relatively gutsy reporting that sometimes draws the ire of authorities and demands for staff to be removed. The demands are often met simply by switching staff to other positions inside the publishing group.