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Chinese censors appear to ban anti-Russian media content about Ukraine invasion

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While China continues to walk a fine line during the Ukraine crisis in attempting to appear neutral, its media sphere has been less guarded and appeared to issue guidelines banning anti-Russian content this week.

The country’s leading social media service, Weibo, a outlet with nearly 6.5 million subscribers, accidentally shared instructions to censor its verified account before deleting the text moments later. Horizon News, which produces video content under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) newspaper Beijing Newsposted what appeared to be instructions from an unidentified supervisor.

“Immediate effect for Weibo posts related to Ukraine…do not post content unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western,” the instructions read. “Show me all copies before posting.”

Replies in the comment sections under each post were to be strictly monitored and controlled, in accordance with the guidelines, which were spotted by University of Vienna professor Ling Li.

“First show presented [comments] then allow appropriate comments. After posting, it is each poster’s responsibility to really pay attention to the comments. Keep an eye on every post for at least two days,” read the instructions, which appeared to be directed at staff members with access to the outlet’s social media account. They were ordered to only use hashtags that had been approved by the big three. state media outlets – CCP newspaper People’s Dailythe Xinhua news agency and the public television channel CCTV.

Newsweek was unable to independently verify the source of the Horizon News guidelines; it remains unclear whether these were top-down instructions or self-censorship by the state-owned news portal. But China’s tight control over its domestic IT environment is nothing new, and he finds it effective at politically sensitive times when Beijing needs to control the official framing of crises like the one unfolding in Ukraine, despite what its diplomats might to say.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing February 4, 2022. The Putin-Xi meeting resulted in a joint statement in which Beijing backed Moscow against NATO, and which preceded the decision of Putin to recognize the rebel regions of eastern Ukraine and send troops to the Donbass on February 21, 2022.
ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

On popular social media platforms in the West, including Twitter, Chinese state-affiliated journalists openly support Moscow over Kiev, which they describe as having been misled by Washington and its NATO allies, and pushed down the path of inevitable conflict with Russia. China’s official position, however, is a bit more subtle than that.

This week, China’s Foreign Ministry was asked about Beijing’s response, after Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk on Monday, then ordered troops to be sent to Donbass. . While blaming the United States for fueling tensions with arms transfers to Kiev, and exaggerating the threat of war, China continues to describe the situation in Ukraine as “complex” and repeated calls for dialogue.

The Chinese government remains evasive about whether it would support or condemn Moscow’s moves, which many believe Beijing tacitly endorsed with the Sino-Russian joint statement released on Feb. 4, when Moscow backed Beijing’s security concerns in the Indo-Pacific in exchange for support. against NATO. A troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders was already underway at the time, but it is unclear whether China believed the deployment of Russian ground forces in eastern Ukraine was a certainty.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed concern about the “deteriorating” situation in Ukraine during a call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The principles of the UN Charter must be respected,” he said, possibly hinting at some sympathy for Kyiv. Earlier today, the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine issued a security advisory advising citizens to stockpile food and water, but it has so far resisted the urge to withdraw its diplomats from the country.

Putin’s close relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping is no secret, but some observers see Russia as having put China in a difficult position with its territorial quest in eastern Ukraine, a move that is incompatible with the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, which Beijing considers sacrosanct. Beijing still does not officially recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, nor has Russia’s latest intervention been universally welcomed in China.

Many outspoken Weibo users sympathize with Moscow’s security concerns, but find its territorial expansion and recognition of rebellious Ukrainian regions difficult to reconcile. It would no doubt alarm China if its own fleeing regions or provinces took steps to loosen ties with Beijing.


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