China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 101 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 101

Freedom House’s biweekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China

Issue No. 101: March 11, 2014

Censors, state media work to improve image of National People’s Congress 
State news agency uses racial slur in bitter farewell to U.S. envoy
Xi Jinping to lead new internet security committee
Censors, police seek to control reaction to Kunming knife rampage
Press, public raise alarm after Hong Kong editor wounded in brutal attack

Photo of the Week: Who's Rotten?

credit: Men's Health China

Official outlets spin the crisis in Ukraine
New state-run search engine replaces unpopular predecessors
LinkedIn unveils Chinese-language site, despite censorship concerns
Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti formally charged with separatism
U.S. producer announces first Chinese investment in Hollywood studio 
Cisco cleared in one of two U.S. lawsuits on China surveillance role

Printable Version


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Censors, state media work to improve image of National People’s Congress 

On March 5, the annual two-week meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, and its affiliated advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), opened in Beijing. One of the first events of the session was a speech by Premier Li Keqiang in which he provided a report on the government’s work over the past year and its plans for the coming year. Li departed from past practice, relaying the first part of his speech without looking down to read directly from the document. Key points of the report included an economic growth target of 7.5 percent, an increased military budget, and promises to deepen reform and follow the “rule of law.” State media were quick to praise Li’s report as “inspiring” and “achievable.” For the first time, the NPC’s press center set up its own account on Tencent’s WeChat social media platform to share updates. Meanwhile, according to China Digital Times, the authorities issued a list of 10 stories that Chinese media were barred from covering during the session, including investigations encircling former security czar Zhou Yongkang (see CMB No. 100), the disbanding of the Military Arts Troupe, and seemingly unrelated events like a commuter bus fire in Jilin and a stampede in the Guangzhou subway. Delegates were instructed to avoid behavior that drew netizen attention and ridicule in the past, such as playing with mobile devices, live microblogging, or dozing during the proceedings (see CMB Nos. 5082). A number of delegates were more modestly dressed than in previous years. In one example that caught international attention, Li Xiaolin, the daughter of former premier Li Peng, was seen wearing a muted suit and carrying a nondescript cloth bag. At the 2012 session, she was photographed wearing a 14,000 yuan ($2,240) salmon-pink Emilio Pucci trouser suit and a Chanel pearl necklace worth 8,000 yuan ($1,280). 

* BBC 3/6/2014: China media: Growth target
Beijing News 3/6/2014: 李克強首秀脫稿譴責暴恐事件 [Li Keqiang departs from the script to condemn the Kunming attack]
Jinghua News 3/6/2014: 政府工作報告新意凸現改革決心 [Government work plan emphasizes determination for reforms]
Quartz 3/4/2014: China’s lawmakers are told to put down their phones and stay awake during this week’s rubber-stamping session
China Digital Times 3/7/2014: Stories to [not] watch during two sessions
South China Morning Post 3/5/2014: No more Chanel or Emilio Pucci for princeling Li Xiaolin at congress meeting, but critics unimpressed


Official outlets spin the crisis in Ukraine

Chinese state media have scrambled to adopt an appropriate line on rapidly shifting developments in Ukraine. In February, they framed deadly clashes between protesters and police in Kyiv as the consequence of rapid political reform. An article posted on the website of the Communist Party–owned Global Times warned that drastic changes in large countries with complex ethnic and religious issues would only result in bloodshed. The article said democratization in China must be done “step by step,” or tensions in places like Tibet and Xinjiang could cause the country to fall into chaos. On February 27, after Russia responded to the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych by mobilizing troops, the People’s Daily, another party mouthpiece, criticized Western countries for their “Cold War mentality” and “resentment” toward Russia. However, in early March, Chinese officials and state media avoided detailed discussion of Russia’s moves to occupy and annex Ukraine’s Crimea region, which fundamentally violated Beijing’s strict principles of territorial integrity and noninterference in another country’s internal affairs. Instead, the Global Times focused on the standoff between Russia and the West, praising Russian president Vladimir Putin for resisting the eastern expansion of Western influence, and mocking the United States as a helpless “doormat” in the face of Russian actions. The paper argued that Russia was more important to China’s “grand strategy” than Ukraine, implying that Ukraine’s territorial integrity was a lower priority. According to a leaked February 25 media directive published by China Digital Times, Beijing ordered Chinese outlets to use only official news sources on Ukraine and avoid independent commentary. Meanwhile, Chinese netizens have expressed an array of views. While some praised the victorious Ukrainian protesters, others expressed skepticism about such tumultuous revolutions. One wrote, “Thank God that violent clashes like the ones in Ukraine didn’t happen in China. No one wants to die for the ambitions of greedy politicians.”

New York Times 2/20/2014: Chinese paper links Ukraine strife to rapid political reform
Offbeat China 2/25/2014: Chinese netizens: ‘China doesn’t need a Ukraine-style revolution’
* Reuters 2/26/2014: China paper slams West’s ‘Cold War mentality’ over Ukraine
China Digital Times 2/25/2014: Minitrue: Extol a sunny outlook
Time 3/4/2014: Russian intervention in Crimea puts China in awkward spot
* China Scope 3/5/2014: Huanqiu editorial: Chinese media should make a greater effort to support Russia and Putin
Christian Science Monitor 3/7/2014: China to Russia: You’re putting us in a tight spot


State news agency uses racial slur in bitter farewell to U.S. envoy

On February 27, a Chinese state-run news agency published a scathing goodbye message to U.S. ambassador Gary Locke, who announced his resignation late last year and left the post at the end of February (see CMB No. 97). Locke, the first Chinese American to serve as Washington’s top envoy to China, is known for his efforts to promote human rights and raise awareness on air pollution by releasing hourly air-quality readings from the embassy in Beijing. He also became famous in China for his humble demeanor in comparison with Chinese officials, as pictures of him carrying his own bags and queuing up at a Starbucks went viral on Chinese social media. The opinion piece from the China News Service, the second-biggest news wire in China after Xinhua, used a racist slur against Locke, describing him as a “yellow-skinned, white-hearted banana man, [whose] yellow peels will always rot, not only revealing its white core but also turning into the stomach-churning color of black.” The piece further denounced him as a “plague” that brought the dangerous smog to Beijing; a “guide dog” for blind rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who took shelter in the embassy after fleeing extralegal detention (see CMB No. 57); and a disgrace to his ancestors who incited “evil winds” and “evil fires” with his visits to the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang (see CMB No. 74). The mean-spirited article drew widespread criticism from the Chinese public. A popular microblogger wrote, “When you call him a plague, you become a national shame as you lack diplomatic etiquette, damage the manner of a great power, and lose the face of all Chinese.” Another commentator, calling the article shameless, said, “Without him, we probably still would not have known what PM2.5 is,” referring to the harmful airborne particles measured by the embassy. The public pressure that resulted from such data releases led the Chinese government to provide more accurate air quality reports. In an indication of Locke’s popularity among the Chinese public, the Chinese edition of Men’s Health featured him, looking trim and clean cut, on the cover of its February issue. Interviewed for the magazine by one of the world’s best badminton players, Lin Dan, Locke said he can hold a plank position for 51 minutes. The cover photo was consequently accompanied by the challenge, “Who can defeat Gary Locke?”

* NPR 2/28/2014: Chinese paper calls outgoing U.S. envoy ‘yellow-skinned, white-hearted banana Man’
South China Morning Post 2/28/2014: Scorn and gratitude in China for departing US ambassador Gary Locke
* China News 2/27/2014: 別了, 駱氏家輝! [Goobye, Mr. Gary Locke!] 
* Associated Press 2/28/2014: Chinese media outlet uses racial slur at US envoy
New York Times 2/25/2014: A magazine cover for a famously humble ambassador



Xi Jinping to lead new internet security committee

In what was widely seen as another move by the current Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership to consolidate its power, state media reported that President Xi Jinping would head a new CCP body to coordinate the government’s work on cybersecurity and internet management, known as the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group (see CMB No. 97). According to the official Xinhua news agency, the decision was announced in a statement after the group’s first meeting on February 27. The meeting was also featured in a five-minute segment on the flagship evening news broadcast of China Central Television. The new entity will be responsible for drafting a national cybersecurity strategy and overseeing relevant activity across different sectors. Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, both members of the CCP’s top-tier Politburo Standing Committee, are the deputy heads of the group. Another member of the steering group is Lu Wei, a former senior editor at Xinhua and current head of the State Internet Information Office who is known for strictly enforcing the party line. During the meeting, Xi demanded more efforts to build China into a “cyber power.” He also noted the digital gap between rural and urban areas, and the relatively low average bandwidth available to users in the country. Citing the group’s dual priorities of developing information technology and improving cybersecurity capabilities, Xi said they were “two wings of a bird and two wheels of an engine.” The news reportedly raised fears among Chinese netizens about tighter internet censorship. Liu Chun, a media executive with more than two million followers on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform, wrote, seemingly with some sarcasm, “The spring of internet has arrived … and my spring has arrived.” Meanwhile, the stocks of several Chinese internet security companies spiked the day after the announcement, according to South China Morning Post.

Washington Post 2/27/2014: Chinese president Xi Jinping takes charge of new cybersecurity group
* Xinhua 2/27/2014: Xi Jinping leads internet security group
Forbes 2/27/2014: China’s new small leading group on cybersecurity and internet management
Diplomat 2/28/2014: Xi Jinping leads China’s new Internet security group
South China Morning Post 2/28/2014: Chinese worried about more censorship as Xi Jinping heads new web security panel
The Sinocism China Newsletter 2/27/2014


New state-run search engine replaces unpopular predecessors

On March 1, the Chinese authorities unveiled a new state-run search engine, ChinaSo. It is the result of a merger by its predecessors, Panguso and Jike, whose homepages now redirect users to ChinaSo (see CMB Nos. 1226). Panguso and Jike, which were poorly received by internet users in China, tightly restricted content and captured a combined market share of less than 0.4 percent. According to unconfirmed reports cited by Sina Tech’s news site, ChinaSo will be run by Zhou Xisheng, vice president of the official Xinhua news agency. Multiple other Chinese news articles reported that staff from Xinhua and the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily, including its deputy editor, would form a team to manage the content of the search engine, an indication of the tight censorship it will likely employ. The website’s choice of colors for its logo and buttons for functions such as news and mapping services are remarkably similar to those of the U.S.-based search engine giant Google. Given that all search engines operating in China are obliged to comply with state censorship rules—including the top-ranked, privately run Baidu—ChinaSo has so far been described by netizens as a “waste of taxpayer money.” Some said they would use the search engine only for finding official statements or documents.

International Business Times 3/5/2014: China’s government owned search engine ‘ChinaSo’ unveiled amid increased internet censorship concerns
South China Morning Post 3/3/2014: China has a new state-run search engine – but will anyone use it? 
Tech in Asia 3/3/2014: China has a new state-run search engine that nobody will ever use


LinkedIn unveils Chinese-language site, despite censorship concerns 

On February 24, LinkedIn, a popular international networking platform for professionals, unveiled a Chinese-language version of its website. Its English site has been available in China for more than a decade, reportedly attracting more than four million Chinese-speaking users. In a blog post, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner admitted that the company’s expansion in China was challenging, because Beijing “imposes censorship requirements on internet platforms.” However, he stressed that LinkedIn supports freedom of expression and would be transparent with users about its practices in China, adding that it had sought input from experts in business, policy, and human rights fields before finalizing its decision to launch a Chinese-language version. In a separate blog post, LinkedIn China president Derek Shen introduced additional features of the new site, which allows users of the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo and messaging platform Tencent WeChat to import their contacts to LinkedIn and reach a broader audience with their status updates. Following the announcement, shares of LinkedIn rose 5 percent on February 25. Investors appeared optimistic about the company’s operations in China, as the service is less frequently used to share politically sensitive information than platforms like Twitter or Facebook, which are blocked in China. Nevertheless, LinkedIn was briefly blocked in February 2011, reportedly after a China-based user inspired by the Arab Spring posted entries calling for democracy and freedom in China (see CMB No. 12). SlideShare, a document-sharing platform owned by LinkedIn, was blocked in 2012 and remains inaccessible, according to the website (see CMB No. 65). Given the apparent integration between the Chinese LinkedIn version and heavily censored domestic platforms like Sina Weibo, it remains to be seen how the company will handle status updates and news sharing that might run afoul of censors. 

* LinkedIn 2/24/2014: Introducing LinkedIn’s simplified Chinese beta site
* LinkedIn 2/24/2014: LinkedIn in China: Connecting the world’s professionals
* CNN 2/25/2014: LinkedIn makes China connection
Time 2/27/2014: Why China is a nightmare for American internet companies
* PRWeb 3/7/2014: Linkedin’s acceptance of China’s censorship laws controversial? BRIC Language & Consulting founder says no (accessed 3/12/2014)


Censors, police seek to control reaction to Kunming knife rampage

A group of knife-wielding assailants rampaged through the Kunming train station in Yunnan Province on March 1, leaving at least 29 people dead and more than a hundred injured. Although the authorities have provided little information about the episode, China’s state media were quick to call it a terrorist attack perpetrated by Uighur separatists who had sought to leave the country on “jihad.” The State Council Information Office issued a directive instructing media to restrict their coverage to wire reports from the official Xinhua news agency and information provided by local authorities. Media outside Yunnan appeared to downplay the incident, possibly because of the close timing with the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing; the attack initially received minimal or no mention on the front pages of influential newspapers like theBeijing News and Southern Metropolis Daily. And while the state media urged the public to avoid blaming all Uighurs for the actions of a few extremists, they slammed some Western media for refraining from using the term “terrorists” to describe the perpetrators. Authorities worked to deter online comments that question the official account of the incident, call for more transparency, or seek to explore the attackers’ motives. Police issued a number of warnings accompanied by screen shots of posts by some of the most vocal microbloggers, threatening to take legal action against anyone whose writings “disregard facts” and “mix black with white.” In addition to naming and shaming prominent bloggers, the authorities sought to punish “rumors and panic mongering” related to the Kunming massacre. Police said on March 6 that 45 people had been detained or cautioned for “disturbing public order” with their social media posts. The official warnings and statements generated a backlash from some users. Li Chengpeng, whose microblog on Sina Weibo has more than 7 million followers, responded defiantly to police criticism, writing, “I am right here at home waiting for you to arrest me!”

* Xinhua 3/4/2014: China journalist association slams Western media on Kunming attack coverage
* Reporters Without Borders 3/4/2014: Authorities censor coverage of Kunming station attack
South China Morning Post 3/2/2014: While world reels in shock at Kunming attack, news is notably absent from China’s front pages
South China Morning Post 3/7/2014: Beijing police threaten action against microbloggers over Kunming attack comments
Financial Times 3/7/2014: China’s internet police crack down on ‘panic mongering’
* Radio Free Asia 3/7/2014: China’s Kunming attacks spark online rumors, comment and crackdown
China Digital Times 3/5/2014: Netizen voices: ‘Why not call them Chinese terrorists?’



Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti formally charged with separatism

Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur activist and economics professor at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University, has been formally detained in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, on separatism charges. He was taken from his home in Beijing by police on January 15, but his status was unknown until February 25, when his wife, Guzaili Nu’er, received an arrest warrant and notice of the separatism charges (see CMB No. 99). Li Fangping, Tohti’s lawyer, said he was barred from meeting his client when he traveled to Urumqi. At least five of Tohti’s students were also apparently detained; the families of three received notice of their separatism and “revealing state secrets” charges by telephone on February 24, more than a month after they were taken. In addition to speaking regularly with foreign media, Tohti has been a vocal online critic of Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. He recently expressed concern on his website regarding the increased pressure on Uighur people since October, when a deadly incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was blamed on Uighur separatists. In late January, the authorities in Urumqi alleged in an online statement that Tohti had used his website to cause trouble, spread separatism, incite violence and ethnic hatred, and recruit followers. Tohti’s lawyer and other supporters rejected the claims, and the news of Tohti’s formal charges drew international criticism, including from the U.S. State Department and the European Union.

* BBC 2/26/2014: China Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti on separatism charge
* Radio Free Asia 2/26/2014: Three students of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti formally arrested
Guardian 2/26/2014: China condemned for charging Uighur academic Ilham Tohti with separatism



Press, public raise alarm after editor wounded in brutal attack

Thousands of people marched in downtown Hong Kong on March 2 to condemn the recent rise in violence faced by local journalists, and particularly a February 26 incident in which a man armed with a cleaver seriously wounded Kevin Lau Chun-to, the recently ousted chief editor of Ming Pao newspaper (see CMB Nos. 9099100). Commenting on the attack for the first time, Lau told Ming Pao in an interview published March 9 that he was struck six times with the cleaver, which left deep gashes and narrowly missed vital organs. Police said the case was a “classic triad hit,” with the attacker fleeing on a motorbike driven by an accomplice. Lau did not speak about press freedom issues during the interview, but Ming Pao, which offered a reward of HK$3 million ($387,000) for information leading to the capture of the suspects, said in a separate article that the incident left Hong Kong journalists with a fear that “freedom is steadily vanishing.” Other Hong Kong papers, such asApple Daily and South China Morning Post, also raised concern that previous cases of assaults on journalists—some dating back many years—had yet to be solved. On March 12, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that nine people had been arrested in connection with the Lau attack, with at least two suspected of ties to organized crime, though Hong Kong police said they were still attempting to determine a motive.

* Bloomberg 3/2/2014: Thousands in Hong Kong protest cleaver attack on journalist
South China Morning Post 3/5/2014: ‘My pelvic bone blocked the knife’: Kevin Lau says his attacker showed no mercy
* BBC 2/28/2014: Hong Kong news editor Kevin Lau improving after attack
New York Times 2/27/2014: Journalists fear attack on Hong Kong editor won't be solved
* BBC 3/12/2014: Kevin Lau stabbing: Nine held over attack in Hong Kong 



U.S. producer announces first Chinese investment in Hollywood studio 

On March 10, Hollywood producer Robert Simonds and his backers, Texas-based private equity firm TPG Growth and Chinese investment firm Hony Capital, announced the formation of a studio venture to fill a perceived dearth of movies with midsized budgets, big-name stars, and global appeal. The group aims to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years, producing as many as 10 films a year. The deal marked the first investment by a Chinese company in a Hollywood studio. Simonds reportedly sought out Hony Capital not just for its abundant capital, with roughly $7 billion under management, but also its close ties with China’s second-largest media group, state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG), whose distribution network would help the new studio gain access to the vast and fast-growing Chinese movie market. Other foreign media enterprises have also been attempting to reach Chinese viewers. Days before the Simonds announcement, U.S.-based Disney Studios announced a partnership with SMG to develop films for Chinese audiences. And it was reported in late February that BBC Worldwide had signed a deal with the popular Chinese video site Sohu that will offer some of the British broadcaster’s documentary and drama programs to Sohu’s 591 million users.

Variety 3/10/2014: Robert Simonds, Gigi Pritzker Pact with TPG, China’s Hony Capital on production venture
New York Times 3/10/2014: New movie studio is formed, with China and self-distribution in mind
Hollywood Reporter 3/10/2014: Producer Robert Simonds partners with TPG, China's Hony Capital for new studio venture
Hollywood Reporter 3/5/2014: Disney to develop Chinese co-productions with Shanghai Media Group
Hollywood Reporter 2/25/2014: BBC signs content deal with Chinese video site Sohu


Cisco cleared in one of two U.S. lawsuits on China surveillance role

On February 24, a federal district court in Maryland cleared the U.S.-based networking equipment manufacturer Cisco Systems of liability for human rights abuses in China in a case filed by Du Daobin, a previously imprisoned writer, and other Chinese dissidents (see CMB No. 25). The judge dismissed the case, saying Cisco was not responsible for Chinese authorities’ use of the “Golden Shield” censorship and surveillance project to find, arrest, and torture political dissidents. The case was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 1789 law that has been used by foreign nationals to seek redress for human rights abuses in American courts. The judge sidestepped some of the key legal questions related to corporate accountability by ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. But he added that “from all that appears, Cisco technology remains a neutral product that can be used in innumerable non-controversial ways," and that the Chinese plaintiffs “failed to indicate with any logic what it means to customize technology that would permit the sort of human rights violations alleged here, such as torture.” Cisco welcomed the decision, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which had submitted a brief in support of the plaintiffs, challenged the legal basis for the dismissal and the judge’s assertion about Cisco’s role in “Golden Shield.” In a blog post, the EFF acknowledged that a company should not be held accountable when governments misuse general-use technologies for nefarious purposes, but the group argued that Cisco had done more than provide basic equipment. The EFF said the company’s contribution “included actively customizing, marketing and providing support for its monitoring and censorship technologies even as it knew that they would be used to identify, locate, and surveil Chinese democracy and religious freedom activists.” It remained unclear whether the plaintiffs planned to appeal. The case is one of two Cisco is facing in U.S. courts. The other was filed in California on behalf of practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement (see CMB No. 2332). In that case, it may be more difficult for a judge to dismiss Cisco’s link to rights abuses, as a leaked company marketing presentation explicitly states that Cisco products can help Chinese officials “combat Falun Gong” and “other hostilities.”

* Agence France-Presse 2/28/2014: Cisco cleared in rights case, as tech sector watches
* Electronic Frontier Foundation 2/27/2014: Maryland court dismisses landmark case that sought to hold Cisco responsible for violating human rights