China Media Bulletin: Predictions for the Year of the Pig, new censorship rules, Twitter arrests (No. 132) | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Predictions for the Year of the Pig, new censorship rules, Twitter arrests (No. 132)

A monthly update of press freedom news and analysis related to China

Photo of the Month: 

Chairpig Xi
Exiled artist Rebel Pepper posted this cartoon, featuring a caricature of Chinese president Xi Jinping reading the character gan (meaning “do”), to Twitter on December 31. The tweet’s title, a play on words, reads “Chairman Pig Xi’s New Year’s Speech.” Xi used the word gan, which can also mean “work hard,” numerous times in his actual speech. Rebel Pepper has 338,000 followers on Twitter, and his posts often circulate widely among Chinese-language users of the platform. At least one Twitter user in China was recently questioned by police after posting a Rebel Pepper cartoon to his own account. Credit: Rebel Pepper


ANALYSIS: Five Predictions for Chinese Information Controls in the Year of the Pig

The signs point to escalating efforts, with diminishing returns for the regime.

By Sarah Cook

The Year of the Dog, which is just ending on China’s traditional lunar calendar, was a fairly miserable one for Chinese news consumers hoping to access uncensored information. President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party moved aggressively to control reporting on threats to the economy, block or shut down popular social media applications, and reduce avenues for jumping the so-called Great Firewall’s censorship.

The Year of the Pig, which begins on Feb. 5, seems likely to bring more of the same, but it could also feature some significant pushback abroad as the world becomes more aware of Beijing’s propaganda-fueled efforts to influence foreign audiences. Below are five developments that are likely to shape Chinese information-control strategies in the coming year:

1. New crackdowns in a year of sensitive dates: The Year of the Pig will be replete with politically sensitive anniversaries: 60 years since the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in March, a century since the launch of the influential May 4 student movement, 30 years since the June 4 crackdown on prodemocracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, a decade since a major bout of unrest and intensified restrictions in Xinjiang in early July, 20 years since the party launched its persecutory campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement later that month, and 70 years of Communist Party rule in October.

Even in years without decennials, some of these dates tend to attract increased censorship. But regulators seem especially keen to preempt any potential expressions of dissent in 2019. On January 3, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced the launch of a new campaign against vaguely defined “negative and harmful information” online. It is set to last six months and has already included instructions to the web portals Baidu and Sohu to suspend their news services for one week this month in order to “root out undesirable content.” As the various anniversaries pass, spikes in censorship will be tracked by monitors like Weiboscope, localized internet shutdowns and travel restrictions will affect regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, and arrests or involuntary “vacations” will be imposed on prominent democracy advocates, grassroots activists, and ordinary Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhist, and Uighur Muslim believers. If the past is any indication, at least some of the repressive measures deployed and the jail sentences imposed will last far beyond the anniversary year itself.

2. First iCloud arrest: The 2017 Cybersecurity Law stipulates that foreign companies must store Chinese users’ cloud data on servers located in China. To meet this requirement, Apple announced last January that iCloud data would be transferred to servers run by a company called Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), which is owned by the Guizhou provincial government. Apple and GCBD now both have access to iCloud data, including photos and other content.

Given that personal communications and information from platforms like WeChat, QQ, Twitter, and Skype have increasingly been used by Chinese authorities to detain or convict people for their peaceful political or religious speech, it is only a matter of time before foreign companies with localized data centers become complicit in a politicized arrest. Apple has already proved its willingness to comply with Chinese government demands that violate basic freedoms by removing hundreds of apps used to circumvent censorship or access foreign news services from its mobile store in China.

Other companies to watch include the US-based note-taking app Evernote, which transferred user data to Tencent Cloud last year, and various blockchain platforms, which as of next month will be required to implement real-name registration, monitor content, and store user data.

3. More censorship of financial news: Last year, Chinese censors intensified their focus on controlling business and economic news amid a trade war with the United States and slowing growth at home. Propaganda and censorship authorities actively intervened to suppress negative reporting on China’s economic situation by suspending online portals’ financial news channels, issuing regular directives to editors to carefully manage their coverage, and providing monthly ideological trainings to journalists at financial news outlets.

Already this year, censors have told the media not to report information on layoffs in the tech sector and restricted circulation of a speech by a prominent economist who said that the government had made serious economic miscalculations in 2018. As the slowdown intensifies and its impact is felt across a wider range of sectors, the authorities can be expected to tighten their control over the news and work to prevent—or even prosecute—leaks of negative financial data and analysis.

4. Use of big data and artificial intelligence to regulate more areas of daily life: On a weekly basis, reports emerge of new pilot initiatives in which Chinese authorities aim to use facial recognition or other artificial intelligence technology to help monitor and control citizen behavior. The more benign examples include efforts to identify and fine jaywalkers, limit illegal subletting in public housing, encourage good manners on public transportation, or improve student attendance at school. Yet even these cases involve considerable restrictions on privacy, possible false positives, and enormous potential for abuse. And in other instances, similar technologies are being deployed for more obviously repressive purposes, like censoring politically sensitive images on WeChat or identifying potential targets for forced “reeducation” in Xinjiang.

The cases above have for the most part been experimental or limited to certain geographical locations. But as these advanced systems for social and political control are refined, and as the government proceeds with its plans for a national “social credit system” that would rate and impose consequences for all citizens’ record of behavior, it seems clear that the entire population will soon be subject to a frightening degree of centralized surveillance.

5. Stronger pushback against Beijing’s influence abroad: The past two years have brought a cascade of increased international awareness regarding the threat posed by the Chinese government’s foreign influence operations. Policymakers and civil society actors in democratic countries have mobilized to more critically examine Beijing’s media engagement and investment practices.

In the United States, the Department of Justice has urged the Xinhua news agency and China Central Television (CCTV) to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, closing an important gap in the law’s enforcement. In Ghana, the local independent broadcasters’ association raised concerns about a potential contract with a Chinese firm to build the country’s digital television infrastructure. Britain’s media regulator is reviewing CCTV’s license following complaints that it had participated in the filming and airing of forced confessions by detainees, including activists and journalists. And a host of countries, ranging from Australia and Japan to Norway, have restricted or are reconsidering the Chinese firm Huawei’s involvement in current or future telecommunications infrastructure projects.

China’s leaders will continue their ambitious and at times covert or coercive drive to influence foreign media and information environments, but Chinese state-run outlets, telecom firms, and even diplomats are now far more likely to encounter legal and other obstacles in democratic settings.

By any measure, the Chinese Communist Party’s apparatus for information control will be more technologically sophisticated than ever in the coming year, and the leadership under Xi Jinping can be expected to press it to the limits of its capacity. That the regime believes this is necessary suggests a deep insecurity—about the litany of its past crimes and demonstrations evoked by the 2019 anniversaries, about the crisis of legitimacy that a slowing economy creates for an unelected government, and about the ways even the smallest expressions of public anger can snowball online and offline. Censorship, propaganda, and surveillance may seem necessary for the regime, but they are hardly sufficient. The authorities’ efforts continue to intensify because they are never entirely successful. While the government’s information controls will likely bulk up during the Year of the Pig, they will come no closer to flying. 

Sarah Cook is a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House and director of its China Media Bulletin. This article was also published by Foreign Policy on January 24, 2019.

Authorities unveil new rules and enforcement efforts to bolster online censorship

New evidence of the scale of China’s digital censorship apparatus has abounded over the past month. According to a December 25 statement from the Beijing Internet Network Information Office, some 110,00 “self-media” accounts had recently been shut down for spreading harmful information. A January 2 New York Times report on “censorship factories” noted a massive increase in low-wage contract workers tasked with identifying and deleting problematic content, with one organization expanding its team of reviewers from 200 in 2016 to over 4,000 today. Technode reported on January 7 that the search engine and web portal Baidu had purged 50 billion pieces of “harmful” information in 2018, up from 45 billion the year prior. That amounts to about 1,500 pieces of intercepted information per second, on average.

State agencies and tech companies are also engaged in large-scale collection and analysis of personal data, as well as manipulation of online discussions. On January 9, Tencent published a statistical report on its WeChat platform that outlined the usage and conversation habits of its users, for example what hour of the day elderly users tend to speak to their children. WeChat users then voiced concern about how closely the company monitors their chat histories. Meanwhile, county-level documents obtained by Bitter Winter indicate that the Chinese Communist Party plans to expand and professionalize “armies” of commentators in an attempt to steer online public opinion, both within China and abroad.

Despite the already expansive reach of this system of censorship, surveillance, and “opinion guidance,” authorities have continued to announce new campaigns and regulations to close any remaining loopholes. New measures over the past month include:

  • ‘Special campaign’ to clean up ‘harmful information’: The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on January 4 announced the launch of a special campaign running from January to June 2019 aimed at “cleaning up the online ecology.” The four-phase effort will target all types of websites, mobile apps, forums, messaging tools, video-streaming platforms, and other content services, with the goal of eradicating a wide range of “negative” content and “harmful” information.
  • Short video rules: On January 9, the industry group China Netcasting Services Association released new rules to increase censorship and ramp up the vetting of content on popular short-video sharing platforms. The rules include 100 very detailed categories of banned content (translated by China Law Translate), which together encompass an extremely wide array of content, including many forms of potential humor and satire. The rules also require at least one human reviewer for every 1,000 videos posted per day. On January 10, Jing Daily explored the potential negative effects the rules could have on marketing campaigns for luxury brands, noting that some common advertising practices could run afoul of provisions that limit “decadent” content or romantic interactions.
  • Blockchain regulation: Following up on draft rules that were released in October, the CAC announced on January 10 that in February it would begin requiring blockchain platforms to censor content, verify users’ real identities, and grant authorities access to stored data. Chinese netizens have used blockchain systems to preserve and circulate information on sensitive topics, such as sexual harassment on college campuses, that had been censored on popular social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo.

Low-tech repression used to control modern communications

In recent months, security agencies in China appear to have expanded their influence over internet management, resulting in a wide range of judicial and extralegal penalties imposed on both high-profile activists and ordinary Chinese users who seek to access or share uncensored information. Three key aspects of this phenomenon are worth noting:

  • Crackdown on Twitter and VPN users: Due to the tight government control over domestic social media platforms, millions of savvy activists and critics of the government have come to rely on the US-based microblogging service Twitter to freely express their opinions and share information. Although Twitter is formally blocked in China, these users reach it with the help of circumvention tools and virtual private networks (VPNs). In a new trend that emerged toward the end of 2018, security forces across the country are engaged in a coordinated campaign to pressure Twitter users to delete tweets or quit the platform; other users have reported having their accounts hacked and posts removed. According to coverage of the crackdown from the Washington Post on January 4, authorities now see curbing elite internet users’ access to Twitter as a top priority. The campaign has continued in January, with hundreds and possibly thousands of users subjected to harassment, detention, and interrogation. Those who provide circumvention tools have also increasingly been charged with offenses such as “setting up and using illegal channels to access the international internet,” which had been widely tolerated in the past. Observers have noted a double standard, given that state media outlets and their employees are highly active on Twitter and other blocked platforms. China-based users who set up their Twitter accounts with non-Chinese email addresses or phone numbers may be safer amid the ongoing crackdown.
  • Holiday trials and sentencing: The Chinese Communist Party has a long tradition of trying and sentencing high-profile activists and journalists during the holiday season around Christmas, when many China watchers and foreign correspondents are on vacation. On December 25 last month, Sun Lin, who had contributed to the overseas news site Boxun, was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” On December 28, the executive director of the online platform Human Rights Campaign in China, Zhen Jianghua, was sentenced to two years for the same charge, having spent the previous six months in detention. Also on December 28, Minsheng Guangcha website editor Ding Lingjie was given 20 months in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after sharing a video that satirized President Xi Jinping. On December 26, Wang Quanzhang, who has been in detention since July 2015 as part of a crackdown on human rights lawyers and advocates, was tried in Tianjin. Prosecutions have continued into the new year. Online dissident and 64 Tianwang website founder Huang Qi stood trial in Sichuan Province on January 14 on charges of leaking state secrets. No verdict has yet been released, and according to a leaked censorship directive translated by China Digital Times, any unauthorized coverage of the case has been forbidden. That same day in Shanghai, democracy activist Ji Xiaolong was tried and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after calling on people to write “Down with the CCP” in local public toilets.
  • Citizens punished for communicating about religious repression: Religious freedom is one of the most censored topics in Chinese media and online, and several recent cases demonstrate that believers and citizen journalists continue to be arrested, imprisoned, and disappeared for helping to disseminate information on religious persecution. Dozens of reporters for Bitter Winter have been arrested for filming or gathering information on violations of religious freedom and human rights since the authorities reportedly designated the outlet a “foreign hostile website” in August 2018. On November 4, award-winning photojournalist Lu Guang disappeared while in Xinjiang, where members of the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnicity face intense repression. Lu’s wife confirmed on December 11 that he had been arrested. The Committee to Protect Journalists listed 11 journalists detained in China in 2018 and still behind bars as of December—10 were arrested in Xinjiang, and nine of them are Uighurs. Separately, two practitioners of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, Yang Yueliang and Liu Wenting, were sentenced to 3.5 and 2.5 years in prison in October for installing satellite receivers capable of receiving uncensored overseas media reports, including about religious persecution. And on January 14, at least six Tibetans were arrested for sharing politically sensitive information on WeChat.

A version of this item was published by the Diplomat on January 26, 2019.

Beijing’s fierce defense of Huawei fuels doubts about company’s autonomy

Since Canada’s December 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, at the request of the US government, relations between Ottawa and Beijing have been highly strained. The Chinese authorities have, in apparent retaliation, arrested several Canadians on various charges and sentenced another to death for drug trafficking. They have also carefully censored domestic media coverage of the dispute. The ferocity of Beijing’s response has heightened international concern that Huawei, ostensibly a private company, enjoys a close relationship with the Chinese government and could facilitate espionage when operating abroad.

In addition to the high-profile detentions of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in the days after Meng’s arrest, at least 11 other Canadians have reportedly been detained in China. Another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was sentenced to death on January 14 in a suspiciously rapid retrial following his appeal of a 15-year prison sentence for drug smuggling that was handed down on November 20, 2018. The court in Dalian stated that the original sentence was too lenient; Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau criticized China for “act[ing] arbitrarily.” On his blog, Chinese law expert Donald Clarke characterized China’s actions as “hostage diplomacy,” and in another post he noted that the court had taken just one hour to deliver a verdict after taking 32 months to arrive at Schellenberg’s previous sentence, opining that the difference “just doesn’t look good.” A post at China Change translates Chinese lawyers’ and legal scholars’ commentary on the unprecedented nature and “mysterious haste” of the Schellenberg case.

These troubling moves, along with Russia’s recent arrest of an American on espionage charges, have reportedly prompted foreign China watchers, journalists, and academics to reconsider travel plans and communications arrangements. The University of California has warned students and faculty against using WeChat, WhatsApp, and similar messaging applications while visiting China, citing potential government surveillance.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have intervened to manage related news content. China Digital Times has translated several leaked censorship notices: a December 8 directive forbidding reporting on Meng’s detention; a December 9 directive targeting coverage of Chinese involvement in the development of 5G mobile technology, which Huawei has sought to install in overseas markets; and a January 14 directive imploring media to adhere to official statements on the arrest of a Huawei sales director in Poland on espionage charges.

In a rare January 15 interview with international media, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei tried to affirm the company’s autonomy, but the apparent government retaliation on its behalf has done much to reinforce international suspicions that the tech giant works closely with the regime. Several democratic countries, including Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, had previously taken steps to block Huawei from providing 5G mobile technology due to national security concerns, and on December 26 British Telecom confirmed that Huawei equipment had been removed from its emergency services network. (It had earlier stated that it would be swapping out Huawei hardware from the core of its 3G and 4G networks.) A January 9 report noted that Norway is also now considering excluding Huawei from its 5G network construction plans. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 10 that the US Department of Commerce signaled it would not renew the export license for Silicon Valley–based Huawei subsidiary Futurewei Technologies.

HONG KONG: Concerns of Chinese surveillance, intimidation of academics and journalists increase

Several incidents in December and January stoked long-standing concerns about Beijing’s use of surveillance and intimidation to suppress dissent in semiautonomous Hong Kong. After a year marked by increasing tensions between Australia and China, Kevin Carrico, a Chinese studies lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney known for his criticism of government crackdowns in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, was allegedly stalked by state media staffers while on a week-long trip to Hong Kong. He was later the subject of a December 17 front-page story in the Beijing-linked Hong Kong tabloid Wen Wei Po that claimed he had come to the city “secretly” and had close ties to independence campaigners.

A January 7 Wall Street Journal investigation into a deal between China and Malaysia revealed that Chinese police officials had offered to monitor Journal staff reporters working in Hong Kong in exchange for infrastructure contracts with the Southeast Asian nation. Hong Kong authorities denied this and noted that it would be illegal under current law. Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang linked the alleged surveillance of Hong Kong–based journalists to the recent trend of extrajudicial abductions by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong. Suspected Chinese intelligence agents have also been accused of monitoring or intimidating political activists, NGO staff, and academics in Hong Kong, both during a July 2017 visit to the territory by Xi Jinping and afterward.

BEYOND CHINA: New Zealand newspaper, academic freedom, Thailand arrest, tech in Africa

  • New Zealand Herald’ Chinese edition omits sensitive content: On January 14, the online news site Stuff reported that the Chinese-language edition of the Auckland-based New Zealand Herald, launched in 2016, has been editing articles from the original English daily to omit points that would offend the Chinese government. Examples included context notes on the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, as well as the research of China scholar Anne-Marie Brady on Beijing’s political influence operations in the country and threats she has faced as a result of her work. The paper’s apparent self-censorship is part of a wider trend affecting overseas Chinese-language publishing. A 2016 PEN America report found that international news organizations were often more proactive in self-censoring coverage on their Chinese-language websites compared with English originals. Chinese editions also tend to focus more on economics, business, and lifestyle stories than on politics, and some potentially sensitive articles appear only on the English websites.
  • Academic journal censorship: In late December, reports emerged that British academic publisher Taylor and Francis—at Beijing’s request—had pulled over 80 of its journals from packages on offer in China beginning in September after certain journals were found by import agencies to have “inappropriate” content. Among the withdrawn publications is the Asian Studies Review, which reportedly included six articles that Chinese censors determined to be “objectionable.” The executive committee of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, which produces the review, said in a statement that Taylor and Francis was unwilling to identify the articles in question, claiming that the information was “commercially sensitive.” The publisher may have been wary of a backlash similar to that faced by Cambridge University Press in 2017, when it denied Chinese users access to 315 articles from its China Quarterly before reversing the decision due to an outcry by scholars.
  • Confucius Institute closures in the United States: Over the past three months, several American universities have closed or announced their intention to close Confucius Institutes (CIs)—centers for Chinese-language instruction that are funded by the Chinese government. Among the schools closing their institutes are the University of Massachusetts and North Carolina State University, both of which had hosted the centers for 12 years; the North Carolina facility served as a hub for affiliated Confucius Classrooms in the state’s primary and secondary schools. On December 31, the University of South Florida quietly closed its CI; on December 18, local media reported that the University of Rhode Island said it would be ending its partnership; and on December 10, news emerged that the University of Michigan would not be renewing its CI agreement once it expires in mid-2019. According to Elizabeth Redden at Inside Higher-Ed, at least 10 schools had announced CI closures over the past year alone. University administrators gave various reasons for the closures, including low student enrollment and restructuring of Asia programs, but many also acknowledged concerns raised by members of Congress and US intelligence agencies, as well as the prospect of losing US federal funding for Chinese-language instruction based on the provisions of a defense authorization act adopted in August 2018. Confucius Institutes have long been controversial due to evidence of negative effects on academic freedom and growing concerns about their national security implications.
  • Radio broadcaster arrested in Thailand: On November 22, police in Thailand detained Chiang Yung-shin, a Taiwanese national, reportedly at the urging of the Chinese government. Chiang had helped lease a residence for equipment to broadcast shortwave radio content into China on behalf of the Sound of Hope (SOH) network. SOH is a non-profit, US-based Chinese-language radio station founded by practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual group, which is banned in China. Its programming includes uncensored news broadcasts, reports on religious persecution and human rights abuses in China, examinations of Chinese culture, and vigorous political debate shows. According to SOH president Allen Zeng, Thai police deceived Chiang into signing what amounted to a confession, taking advantage of his limited knowledge of the Thai language, although it is unclear whether the law he allegedly violated, Thailand’s Telecommunications Business Act, should apply to his case. Chiang has been released on bail, but formal charges have been filed, and a court hearing is scheduled for February 12. He could face up to five years in prison. This is not the first time Beijing has pressured Asian governments to crack down on SOH broadcasts. In 2011, two men in Vietnam were jailed for broadcasting content into China, and Indonesian authorities attempted to shut down SOH affiliate Radio Era-baru, which transmitted programming to local Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.
  • Chinese tech firms in Africa: Chinese technology and telecommunications companies have expanded their presence in African countries as part of the Xi administration’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” which aims to increase Chinese influence around the world through investment in infrastructure. A January 10 report from Bloomberg Businessweek looks at China’s financing and construction of related projects, including networks of surveillance cameras and other systems that could threaten democracy and human rights. The International Monetary Fund and other observers have also warned of the high debt levels that result from China’s development contracts. Officials in one host country, Zambia, defended their reliance on Chinese technology and denied that they were moving toward Beijing’s authoritarian political model. However, Zambia’s communications minister has reportedly advocated Chinese-style internet management, and a Zambian activist cited in the Businessweek article argued that “people’s freedom to express themselves—their freedom of thought, their freedom of speech—is shrinking by the day.” Zambia was rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report.

FEATURED PUSHBACK: Google’s Dragonfly suspended

In August 2018, the Intercept reported that Google was secretly preparing to launch a censored search engine in China. Subsequent revelations indicated that the planned application, known as Dragonfly, would not only blacklist banned terms, but also link queries to users’ phone numbers, potentially aiding state monitoring. On December 17, the Intercept reported that Google had “effectively ended” the project, with groups of engineers transferred to assignments involving other countries. The shift was a remarkable about-face for the tech giant, which had apparently intended to launch the new product in early 2019. Google had faced criticism from an unusually wide array of actors, including human rights groups, members of Congress, top investors, and Vice President Mike Pence.

But a pivotal role was played by Google employees themselves, who raised complaints internally, resigned in protest, or fed relevant documents and information to journalists, particularly Ryan Gallagher at the Intercept. Even as top executives at Google and its parent company Alphabet continued to defend the project or evade questions about it, employees pointed out that Dragonfly’s development had been characterized by a disregard for Google’s own policies. The project was shrouded in secrecy, and teams specializing in legal, privacy, and security questions were sidelined. The final nail in the coffin appears to have been Dragonfly project engineers’ use of datasets from real-life Chinese user queries that were obtained via a Google subsidiary website in China,; the arrangement was kept hidden from privacy teams, a “serious breach of company protocol.” Although the project appears to have been suspended for the moment, critics continue to call on top executives to confirm that the suspension is permanent


Lunar New Year censorship: As families throughout China gather to mark the Lunar New Year and start a long vacation, censors remain busy. In past years, a particular favorite target for censorship has been ridicule of state broadcaster China Central Television’s annual Spring Festival Gala. Watch next month for deleted posts and restricted search terms related to the gala, migrant worker layoffs, public transportation problems, and holiday wishes to the country’s many political and religious prisoners.

Effects of online ‘clean-up’ campaigns: For the next six months, the Cyber Administration of China (CAC), local authorities, and Chinese tech companies will implement the CAC’s latest special campaign—announced on January 4—to remove so-called “harmful information.” As they do so, watch for what new types of content are deemed unacceptable, which new censorship methods are introduced, how automation and artificial intelligence are employed, and in what cases security agencies intervene with punitive measures.

Impact of new US legislation on Tibet: On December 19, US president Donald Trump signed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which had passed both houses of Congress by a wide margin. The act seeks to address the significant restrictions on access to Tibet, particularly for foreign journalists, human rights researchers, and diplomats. It requires the US State Department to provide regular assessments of the degree of access granted by the Chinese authorities to Tibet and to respond reciprocally with US visa and other travel restrictions for Chinese officials from the affected areas. Proponents of the law hope it will incentivize local officials to improve freedom of movement. As the law enters into force, watch for the secretary of state’s first report to Congress in March, the list of Chinese officials who may be designated as responsible for restrictions, and signs that the new legislation will indeed improve transparency and push Chinese authorities to loosen controls.


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