China censors online debate on Ukraine, bans calls for peace

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An honor guard holds a Russian flag during preparations for a welcoming ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

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BEIJING, March 10 (Reuters) – China’s censors, quietly determining what can be discussed on the country’s frenzied social media platforms, are silencing the opinions of citizens protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine .

In the days following the February 24 Russian attack, comments on Chinese social media platforms Weibo, WeChat and Douyin were overwhelmingly supportive of Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Many posts challenging this, or even advocating peace, quickly disappeared.

Jin Xing, a former popular talk show host and China’s first openly transgender celebrity, told Reuters her account on Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – was suspended last week after posting two messages, including one referring to Putin as a “madman”. Russian man” and urged his followers to pray for peace.

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“All I said was that I support life and I oppose war, that’s all. I didn’t say I support the United States, Russia or Russia. ‘Ukraine,” said Jin, whose account is followed by 13.6 million users. “What mistake did I make? »

Jin is not alone. Award-winning Chinese actress Ke Lan has been banned from posting on Weibo “due to violation of relevant rules and regulations”, according to a notice on her Weibo account. She had liked and shared anti-war images and comments, including photos from an anti-war protest in St. Petersburg.

China and Russia have forged an increasingly close partnership in recent years. Beijing did not condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine or call it an invasion, but called for a negotiated solution.

Some messages from prominent historians who tried to organize anti-war petitions have been removed from the WeChat messaging service.

Lu Xiaoyu, assistant professor of international relations at Peking University, wrote an article last week urging common sense. “Being seen as an ally of Russia will be a step towards losing global popular support,” he wrote in the article, which was widely reposted on WeChat. The original article cannot be found.

Weibo (9898.HK) and Tencent Holdings (0700.HK), owner of WeChat, did not respond to requests for comment on why this material was removed or the accounts suspended.

China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which oversees the country’s news and social media companies, did not respond to a request for comment.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it was unaware of the job cuts or account suspensions. “What I can tell you in terms of principle is that China’s position on the Ukraine issue is open, transparent and consistent,” the spokesperson said.

“PRO-WEST” POSTS DELETED

Censorship has extended beyond social media. Staff from at least two Chinese state media have been told by their editors to tone down stories that deviate from Beijing’s official stance on Russia and Ukraine, three people familiar with the media told Reuters. case.

On February 22, two days before the invasion of Russia, a Weibo account belonging to Horizon News, a subsidiary of the state-owned newspaper Beijing News, posted what appeared to be internal guidelines for content related to Ukraine, according to which the messages were “unfavorable to Russia”. , pro-Western” should not be published. The post was deleted shortly after. Beijing News did not respond to a request for comment.

Television was also affected. International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons called for peace during his televised speech at the opening of the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing last week. This part of his speech was not translated for domestic audiences by China’s state broadcaster CCTV. The IPC told Reuters it had asked CCTV about it but had not received a response. CCTV did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

On the other side of the debate, some aggressively pro-war or anti-Ukrainian views have also been censored in China. In the days following the Russian attack on Ukraine, certain messages circulated to shed light on the situation, for example by offering to welcome young Ukrainian women refugees.

Over the past two weeks, Weibo, WeChat and Douyin – China’s version of TikTok – have been warning users against making such jokes or spreading false information.

WeChat issued a call on February 25 on its own platform for what it called a “rational discussion” of the war, noting that the “vulgar” jokes had caused a “huge negative influence online”.

Douyin, owned by ByteDance, has made several statements on its official WeChat account over the past two weeks, warning against jokes, misinformation and other content that “sheds light on the pain of others”. It said it deleted 6,400 videos that broke its rules, cut more than 1,600 live streams and removed more than 12,000 comments. ByteDance did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

Weibo said it suspended accounts for encouraging war on the Weibo pages of some foreign embassies in China, as well as requiring geolocation of users commenting on the war to prevent people from falsely claiming they are in China. Ukraine.

On March 5, Weibo said it had suspended more than 1,000 accounts that posted “vulgar jokes” and “overly insulting and warmongering content.”

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Reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Dhruv Munjal in Beijing and Shanghai newsroom Editing by Brenda Goh and Bill Rigby

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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