A Chinese airline has dismissed as "rumor" a report circulating on social media 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 by embroiling them in a sexual scandal.
"We have taken note of reports that are circulating about certain unsavory text messages sent to one of our employees," Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines said in a statement on its official Weibo account on Friday.
"Following verification, we can confirm that these reports were deliberately fabricated and are malicious slander," it said.
The statement came after screenshots of chat messages circulated online in which a provincial-level CCP official from Jiangsu surnamed Tian was shown to have called on China Eastern cabin crew member Ni Gaoping to set a honey trap for another official.
China Eastern said Ni, a manager in its cabin crew division who has been designated a "model worker," was the victim of the incident, and has since reported the matter to the police.
A police officer who answered the phone at the Hongqiao Airport police station, where Ni made her report, declined to comment when contacted by RFA on April 22.
Repeated calls to several departments, including the publicity department, of China Eastern Airlines' Jiangsu branch rang unanswered during office hours on April 22.
A person familiar with the matter told RFA that "Tian" could refer to Tian Hong, currently party branch secretary of China Eastern's Jiangsu division.
Pressure on platform operator
Several screenshots of related chat exchanges had been circulating online from April 22, attached to a post claiming that Ni had been ordered to approach the high-ranking official, surnamed Qiu, and had contacted him.
Explicit screenshots, purportedly of a subsequent conversation with Qiu and a second, high-ranking figure in aviation, had also circulated, before being deleted, the person said.
A journalist who gave only the surname Yang said the story had quickly gone viral on China's tightly controlled social media platforms.
"That content really proved quite popular," Yang said. "We're not sure if Qiu was from [the airline's] Shanghai headquarters, or from the Civil Aviation Administration of China."
"This kind of thing is so common; it happens all the time," he said. "Just that this time, someone went public with it."
Chen Jun, who runs the blogging platform Jinrizhiyi.com, said the authorities had been keen to delete any reference to the viral story.
Chen said that he had received a call from Kou Lingnan in the CCP branch office inside China Eastern Airlines' Jiangsu division asking him to delete the post."
If he didn't play ball, Chen might have a hard time ever running a media business in Jiangsu in future, it was suggested.
"Yes, definitely a lot of pressure," Chen said. "The CCP office at China Eastern Airlines told me that this matter had had too much of an impact, but they didn't say it was fake."
"Then today I found out that Cyberspace Administration officials from my hometown were trying to contact me," he said. "They are trying to intimidate me; it's a very common way for them to get posts deleted."
Reported by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.