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Chinese State Censors at Work to Control Messaging on War

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Asim Kashgarian | Voice of America

WASHINGTON — Beijing is controlling messaging on the war in Ukraine, analysts and observers say, as social media companies and traditional Chinese state media outlets have been suppressing voices critical of Russia’s invasion. 

On February 22, Horizon News, an affiliate of China’s state-owned Beijing News, accidentally posted on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, censorship instructions related to posts on the Russia-Ukraine war

“Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western,” the now deleted directive said. “If using hashtags, only use those started by People’s Daily, Xinhua, or CCTV.” 

During an opening speech in Beijing last Friday, Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, commented on the war in Ukraine without naming specific countries. “I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” he said.

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons – credit: Wikiwand

The China Central Television (CCTV) interpreter, however, did not translate that portion of his remarks during the broadcast. 

Last weekend, Chinese video streaming company iQiyi Sports refused to broadcast English Premier League matches because of the league’s planned shows of support for Ukraine. 

According to Carl Minzner, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, since the signing of the February 4 joint statement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Leader Xi Jinping, Chinese foreign policy “has been locked into a pro-Russia” stance.

“China’s top leader has personally tied his country to Russia. And that political orientation has set the tone for state media coverage of the Ukraine war in China itself,” Minzner told VOA. “Deviation from that stance, criticizing it, or even merely pointing out the horrific consequences of Russia’s war to civilians, risks raising questions about Xi’s own decision to support Russia so strongly at the outset.” 

Sina Weibo is not the only Chinese social media platform where voices “unfavorable to Russia” are censored. 

Wang Jixian, a Chinese citizen living in Ukraine since December, started posting on Chinese social media WeChat what he was learning from local Ukrainian news about the war. 

“So, I was posting and nicely asking people to correct me or to inform me about the reality if they believe they know much better,” Wang said. 

He soon discovered that his WeChat account had been blocked. 

“I got so much unnecessary stress from WeChat,” Wang told VOA in a phone interview on Monday. “This morning, I sent my parents (a WeChat message), ‘Hey, I’m safe’ and suddenly found I had been blocked.” 

Wang said he saw on Chinese social media stories about the war that were “completely opposite” to what he is seeing on Ukrainian media. 

According to Yaqiu Wang, a senior researcher on China at Human Rights Watch, since Beijing and Moscow are strategic allies, Beijing “prevents Chinese people from knowing the truth” about the conflict. 

“Information control has always been the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule of China,” Wang told VOA. “Without censorship and propaganda, without covering up its abuses and deceiving the public, the party simply wouldn’t be able to stay in power.” 

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