Barcelona have been given fresh hope in their pursuit of Paulinho after it emerged that his club Guangzhou Evergrande are among a number of Chinese Super League sides threatened with expulsion from the league over an alleged breach of financial regulations.
Thirteen CSL clubs and further four from the second division have been threatened with a ban by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) due to outstanding debts on player transfers, salaries and bonuses.
Current champions Guangzhou Evergrande and the other sides in questions were said to be named in a letter sent to the CFA by the Asian Football Confederation on 11 July, telling them to clear the debts before 31 August or face exclusion from next year's completion.
"Those (clubs) who fail to solve the debt problem or miss the deadline will be disqualified from any China professional football leagues from 2018, according to the CFA Professional League Club Entry Requirements and Review Guidelines," the letter said as released by The Telegraph.
Jiangsu Suning, Shandong Luneng, Beijing Guoan and Shanghai SIPG have already denied any wrongdoing. Carlos Tevez's side Shanghai Shenhua have said they are investigating the issue and would finalise outstanding payments as soon as possible.
Many in Spain will see the dispute as a boost for Barcelona in their attempts to convince Evergrande to part ways with Paulinho before the end of the current transfer window.
Guangzhou are among the clubs contacted by the CFA and, if their financial troubles can be proven, they could be forced to cash in on the former Tottenham Hotspur star by 31 August - the final day of the summer transfer window in Europe - in order to clear their debts.
New Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has earmarked the signing of the 29-year-old midfielder as a top priority after having already added three new faces to his squad in Nelson Semedo, Gerard Deulofeu and Marlon Santos.
However, the Chinese club have reportedly told La Liga giants to meet Paulinho's €40m (£35.8m, $46.5m) release clause. The Chinese transfer window is already closed and Evergrande are unable to sign a replacement.
Recent reports in Spain claim that Barcelona have had a €25m offer turned down to sign the Brazil international.