China Media Bulletin: The survival of dissent, WeChat monitoring, smuggled videos (No. 136) | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: The survival of dissent, WeChat monitoring, smuggled videos (No. 136)

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

Photo of the Month: 

Captured Chatter
This word cloud is derived from a set of 3.7 billion messages sent on Tencent’s WeChat instant messaging application on March 18. The terms shown had caused the conversations to be flagged for “review.” The trove of data, discovered by researcher Victor Gevers, consisted mostly of messages sent in Chinese within China, but also included some 19 million messages sent by users around the world. WeChat monitors were particularly concerned with conversations about Chinese leaders, the Communist Party, and the upcoming 30th anniversary of the army’s suppression of prodemocracy protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Credit: Victor Gevers


ANALYSIS: The Remarkable Survival of Free Thought and Activism in China

The regime’s repressive efforts are increasing, but they are also failing in important ways.

By Sarah Cook

Thirty years ago this week, thousands of students occupied Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, engaging in a hunger strike to call for political and economic reform. Other citizens across the country—professors, workers, even party cadres—were slowly joining in their demands for democracy and transparency. The movement was violently crushed on the night of June 4, 1989, but over the decades that followed, a budding civil society sector began to develop and professionalize, investigative journalism and legal advocacy provoked policy changes, and the country experienced a religious revival.

Political repression, surveillance, and censorship have all intensified since 2012 under the leadership of Communist Party head Xi Jinping. Even so, various forms of protest and activism have survived and continue to emerge.

The following trends point to an environment that is highly restrictive but also more complex, and potentially less stable, than it first appears.

The chilling effect is real

Running a nonprofit advocacy organization, working as an investigative journalist, practicing one’s faith, or simply sharing a political joke with friends on social media is more difficult and risky in today’s China than it was even three years ago. Some long-standing civil society groups are closing their doors, prominent journalists are changing careers, and ordinary Chinese are more careful about their online communications.

Numerous factors have contributed to this change, but tightening controls on Tencent’s ubiquitous WeChat messaging application—including several rounds of large-scale account deletions over the past 18 months, often for relatively minor political infractions—have played a unique role in encouraging users to self-censor. Unlike with the Sina Weibo microblogging platform, which was the focus of a fierce crackdown in 2013–14, a shuttered WeChat account does not just silence the user’s public commentary. It also cuts the individual off from an entire network of contacts as well as from options for electronic payment, seriously affecting his or her ability to function normally in modern Chinese society. This powerful deterrent is far more common than other penalties like imprisonment, though jail sentences have also increased in recent years.

Self-censorship in the online world is slowly spilling over into face-to-face conversations. “It’s a dead end with friends. Nobody wants to talk about anything even remotely political,” according to one expatriate who has lived in China for over 20 years. “Today most families are careful about what they say, even to loved ones.” Foreign scholars who have attended conferences in China in recent years have similarly remarked on the narrowed space for academic discussion and the increased reticence of Chinese counterparts to frankly relay their views.

‘Dissent is not dead’

Despite this chill, scholar Elizabeth Economy wrote in an article published last month that “in critical respects, the political values and spirit of collective action embodied in the 1989 democracy movement have endured and even thrived.” She notes that despite the narrowing room for dissent under Xi, scholars continue to pen widely circulated articles calling for a political opening, and broad social movements have emerged around issues like women’s rights, labor rights, and the environment. Thousands of public protests take place across China each year, including some 1,700 documented workers’ strikes in 2018.

Another China specialist, Teresa Wright, pointed out in her 2018 book on popular protest in China that “the Chinese public is far from passive, obedient, or complacent. To the contrary, Chinese citizens often boldly, defiantly, and doggedly confront authority when they feel that their rights have been violated or that they have been treated unjustly.”

Dissent in China takes many forms and reflects a range of views. The more intellectual commentators tend to critique Xi’s policy choices and call for a return to the more open economy and society associated with some of his predecessors. Bolder activists seek to challenge the legitimacy of Communist Party rule or directly explore political alternatives. The latter have typically garnered the harshest penalties, but as repression expands to individuals who seek to improve party-state governance without challenging the system itself—including public interest lawyers and liberal economists—the prospects for such modest reform are dimming.

Meanwhile, as the screws have tightened on formal civil society organizations, the latest activist campaigns have featured loose networks of individuals joining together to call for change, often from populations that have traditionally remained silent. In fact, every time there appears to be a lull in dissent, a new source of criticism or mobilization makes itself known. Recent examples include efforts by Marxist students at top universities to assist striking workers, engineers at tech companies organizing to push back against a grinding 996 schedule (9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week), and the #MeToo movement, which at one point drew 30 million Chinese in a single month to discuss sexual harassment online.

Religious resistance on the rise

The relative potency of decentralized networks of dissent and the way in which expanding repression can generate pushback from new sources come together in another underappreciated trend: Resistance among religious believers is growing even as religious persecution increases. A key finding from a 2017 Freedom House report on religion in China was that “members of all faith communities have responded to official controls with creativity and with courage, at times scoring significant victories.”

Millions of believers defy official restrictions in their daily lives, some openly and others with great secrecy. Chinese Buddhists have resisted efforts to exploit holy sites for economic purposes. Christians and Falun Gong adherents advocate for the release of detained coreligionists. Tibetan Buddhists have marched through marketplaces calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. Uighur Muslims have used various means to document and expose harsh conditions in Xinjiang.

Some efforts extend beyond an individual religious community in an attempt to influence the beliefs and behaviors of the broader Chinese public, including party and state officials. Registered and underground church leaders have worked with rights lawyers to challenge arrests and property disputes in court. Activists have conducted trainings to increase legal awareness among congregants and made phone calls to police in an effort to discourage them from violating believers’ rights under Chinese law.

Since 2004, Falun Gong practitioners and supporters have, as a 2015 scholarly study noted, encouraged “citizens to issue ‘tuidang’ (‘withdraw from the party’) statements, symbolically severing their affiliations with the party, youth league, or young pioneers as a form of catharsis and a way to clear the conscience.” Focused as it is on the realms of spirit and culture, the “tuidang movement” does not necessarily aim to overthrow the Communist Party, but rather encourages Chinese to imagine a future without it and to renounce support for its violent tendencies. The campaign has spread by word of mouth, messages written on paper currency, and via social media and overseas websites accessible through virtual private networks (VPNs).

Resilience through technology

Both religious and secular dissidents in China confront the world’s most sophisticated system of information control. They have responded by developing complex workarounds to achieve the basic level of free communication that people in many countries take for granted.

Simply accessing uncensored news has become more difficult thanks to tightening restrictions on VPN use. Nevertheless, partial data from several developers indicate that at least 20 to 30 million people in China jumped the so-called Great Firewall in 2018. The technologists who develop and maintain the necessary circumvention tools are continually innovating to serve their users as efficiently, consistently, and securely as possible. Meanwhile, some Chinese citizens have risked prison to help install satellite dishes capable of receiving overseas content for their neighbors or to secure unregistered SIM cards.

As censorship, surveillance, and legal liabilities have increased on popular social media platforms like Sina Weibo and WeChat, netizens have turned to other spaces to mobilize and communicate with the outside world. In two examples from the past year, users posted open letters in metadata accompanying blockchain transactions, and tech workers used GitHub—an unblocked global code-sharing site—to protest harsh working conditions, garnering notable support from their international colleagues. Online crowdfunding has also helped support specific initiatives, like subway ads denouncing sexual harassment, or the broader operations of Chinese civil society organizations.

An uncertain future

People in China may be increasingly reluctant to voice public criticism of the Communist Party or Xi Jinping, or even to share politically sensitive information, but no one should underestimate the actual level of dissatisfaction with Xi’s heavy-handed rule. The sheer scale of censorship and spikes in netizen efforts to jump the Great Firewall at politically significant moments—such as the period surrounding the removal of presidential term limits in 2018—hint at a notable degree of latent dissent. Indeed, Xi’s obsession with tightening control and his tendency to abandon the party’s own past strategies for political survival belie deep insecurities within the regime.

Thirty years ago, over a million Chinese people from every walk of life took to the streets to call for greater freedom and better governance. Although it is hard to imagine a repeat of those events today, the desire for a freer, more just China lives on in the hearts and daily actions of many.

Sarah Cook is a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House, director of its China Media Bulletin, and author of the Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping.This article was also published in the Diplomat on May 23, 2019.

Nationalist rhetoric, strict censorship shape coverage of US-China trade war

Over the past month, Chinese government censors remained busy stifling open discussion of the escalating trade war with the United States. In a leaked censorship directive published by China Digital Times and dated May 6, the Ministry of Public Security and the Cyberspace Administration of China ordered local public security and internet management departments to “organize personnel to control and delete rumors related to increased American tariffs on China.” Another directive from the same day prohibited all websites from “publishing news and commentary on the China-US trade war.” Such moves are not new. As tensions between the two countries rose last year, the trade war became the most heavily censored topic in a large sample of public WeChat accounts, according to researchers at the University of Hong Kong. Censorship has only increased as ongoing bilateral talks fail to bear fruit.

In addition to the impact on ordinary news consumers, state censorship has harmed China’s retail investors, according to a May 8 article from Reuters. When US president Donald Trump threatened on May 5 to raise tariffs on Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent, his comments went unreported in Chinese state media despite the ensuing 5 percent plunge in Chinese stock benchmarks, leaving many individual investors in the dark about the catalyst for the drop. More sophisticated investors have also felt the effects of state censorship. A May 15 report in MarketWatch cited quantitative investors who said that media controls undermined the accuracy of algorithms they used to sift through Chinese social media posts for signals of retail investor sentiment.

As the Chinese government threatened on May 13 to respond to higher US tariffs with $60 billion in new tariffs of their own, Chinese media suddenly became increasingly vocal, nationalistic, and defensive, performing an about-face after days of conciliatory rhetoric from official sources. In a segment on the flagship evening news program of state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) that subsequently went viral, a news anchor declared, “If the US wants to fight, we’ll be with them until the end.” A May 13 editorial prominently featured by Xinhua News Agency was similarly direct: “The American side fights because of greed and arrogance.... China is fighting back to protect its legitimate rights and interests.”

State propaganda “appears to be preparing the public for a protracted and costly trade war,” wrote professor Jessica Chen Weiss in the Washington Post on May 15. Part of this preparation has involved drawing on nationalist historical narratives. For example, CCTV’s movie channel replaced regular programming with films on fighting the United States during the Korean War. According to a May 14 piece in the New York Times, “commentators have drawn comparisons between the current trade dispute and China’s humiliation at the hands of foreign powers during the colonial era.” Some netizen content has echoed the nationalistic tone, with many users sharing a privately produced militant song about the trade war.

Despite these bold words, China may be in a weaker position than the Communist Party would like to admit. Writing in the New York Times on May 7, Hong Kong commentator and professor Yi-Zheng Lian speculated that in the first great test of Sino-US ties, President Xi Jinping may have mismanaged the situation by overreaching in his attempt to challenge the United States, which could undermine his legitimacy.

Surveillance updates: Xinjiang police app, new data leaks, WeChat keyword monitoring

  • Reverse-engineered policing app from Xinjiang: On May 2, Human Rights Watch released a reverse-engineered version of an application that Chinese police use to categorize and surveil the population in Xinjiang. The app, which is connected to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, allows police to collect the personal data of ethnic minority Muslims in the region, including blood type, political affiliation, and whether a person’s phone includes secure communications applications like WhatsApp or Telegram, or tools used to jump China’s so-called Great Firewall and reach the uncensored internet. People are classified according to 36 suspicious personality types, which include those who have stopped using smartphones, people who enthusiastically collect donations for mosques, and even those believed to be “using an abnormal amount of electricity.” According to Human Rights Watch, “based on these broad and dubious criteria, the system generates lists of people to be evaluated by officials for detention.” It adds that although the Xinjiang-based tracking and database system is particularly intrusive, its basic design matches others that police are planning to implement throughout China.
  • Beijing smart-city data leak: In the latest example of a public surveillance system with shoddy data security, researcher John Wethington discovered an unsecured Chinese smart-city database hosted by Alibaba, as Tech Crunch reported on May 3. The database contains the personal information of hundreds of people in two housing districts in eastern Beijing, including facial recognition files that collate individuals based on approximate age and even ethnicity. The system also reportedly pulls in data from police to alert managers about people of interest or criminal suspects, with labels such as “drug addict.” In a May 3 tweet, Beijing correspondent Emily Feng of US National Public Radio noted that the database is also linked to sensors that scan mobile devices and computers in the neighborhood.
  • Keywords trigger WeChat monitoring inside, outside China: On April 22, researcher Victor Gevers of GDI Foundation revealed that WeChat is filtering billions of messages for “review” based on keyword triggers. He noted that “not all the dialogues were in Chinese or only had GPS coordinates in China.” For example, on March 18 alone, 3.6 billion messages in Chinese, 59 million in English, and 26 million in other languages were captured and routed to operators. Keywords triggering capture of the entire conversation included “Xi Jinping,” “CCP,” “1989,” and “Tibet.” While the majority of the messages were sent in China, some 19 million English-language messages were captured from users around the globe, including people in North America, Europe, South America, Taiwan, and Australia. 

Censorship updates: Tiananmen anniversary run-up, labor activism, Sichuan earthquake

  • Internet censorship and “rectification” on rise ahead of June 4 anniversary: Chinese authorities are expanding supervision of online and social media platforms as they attempt to crack down on illicit and politically sensitive content in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the military opened fire on peaceful Beijing protesters on June 4, 1989. The website of the photo and media agency Visual China Group was relaunched on May 12 after undergoing “rectification” and establishing a content review agreement with the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily. As part of the agreement, users will be able to report “harmful” material, including political content, to the agency. This follows reports that on May 11, mobile dating applications Momo and Tantan suspended their social newsfeed functions for a month on orders from the government. Access to uncensored material beyond China’s so-called Great Firewall has also been curtailed. The Chinese government has shut down hundreds of virtual private network (VPN) servers over the last month, according to a May 6 report on Blokt, although many free circumvention tools continue to function. The BBC reported on May 14 that versions of Wikipedia in all languages have been blocked in China since late April. Previously, only the Chinese-language version and non-Chinese articles related to sensitive topics like the Dalai Lama were inaccessible in the country.
  • Censors, police target online labor-rights activism: The censorship and repression of labor activists has intensified under President Xi Jinping. Wei Zhili, editor of the labor rights website, was arrested on March 19 in Guangzhou for “disturbing public order.” His colleague Ke Chengbing has disappeared and is believed to be held by police, while Yang Zhengjun, editor in chief of the workers’ rights website New Generation, has been detained since January 8. Other activists have also disappeared. Wuqiong Wenqing, the former editor of a left-wing feminist website whose work focused heavily on workers’ rights, has been missing since May 8 after being detained by police in Beijing. On May 12, the South China Morning Post reported that police in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen raided the offices of civil society organizations focused on worker and migrant rights, with members of each organization arrested. Government authorities instructed media outlets on April 21 not to report or comment on the case of Marxist student activists detained by police for their support of Jasic Technology workers in Shenzhen. Censors have even blocked material satirizing Alibaba founder and Communist Party member Jack Ma’s support for the “996” work pattern; a broader movement has lobbied against the schedule, which entails working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day and six days a week. Alongside students, workers notably played an important role in the 1989 prodemocracy protests, whose anniversary may be contributing to this new wave of official wariness about labor activism.
  • Sichuan earthquake still sensitive 11 years later: Official media have played down the 11th anniversary of the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake. On May 11 parents of students killed in the earthquake attempted to publicly commemorate the tragedy in Dujiangyan, a county-level city within Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, but they were surrounded and beaten by local authorities, with many subsequently hospitalized. Parents who agreed to media interviews in the past have been placed under round-the-clock surveillance by the police in the lead-up to the anniversary. Despite government efforts to present the quake in a positive light as the beginning of a new era of “volunteerism” in China, censorship of online discussion about the disaster remains pervasive.

HONG KONG: Tensions rise over extradition law amendments

Proposed revisions to Hong Kong ordinances that would facilitate extradition to mainland China have elicited fierce resistance from Hong Kong civil society. As many as 130,000 protesters took to the streets on April 28 to protest the amendments, which, if passed, would permit Hong Kongers and foreigners working or living in the territory to be sent to face trial in China's notoriously flawed judicial system. Members of the local artistic community have also expressed fear that the agreement could undermine creative freedom in the territory. Scuffles between opponents and supporters of the bill broke out in the Hong Kong legislature on May 11, with one member of the prodemocracy camp falling and being taken away on a stretcher. Despite the opposition, the South China Morning Post reported on May 14 that Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam is “doubling down” on her support for the bill, believing that failure to pass it would undermine her authority. For its part, the Chinese government has defended the bill, with the director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Xiaoming, describing it as “necessary, appropriate, lawful, and reasonable” during a meeting with a Hong Kong think tank on May 15.

Concerns about the bill have also been raised by the US government. On May 7, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a brief criticizing the proposed amendments, noting that they may negatively affect US interests in Hong Kong. Local opponents of the bill have also brought their message to Washington. Testifying before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Hong Kong Democratic Party founder and former lawmaker Martin Lee warned that the bill could permit the kidnapping and extradition to China of American citizens living in Hong Kong. In a May 15 op-ed for the Washington Post, Lee called on “the world to act to protect Hong Kong’s free society and legal system.”

Against this backdrop, members of Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement continue to be jailed, reinforcing fears that politically motivated charges may increase should the extradition bill come into force. An estimated 100 such activists have been convicted by Hong Kong courts, and one of them, former protest leader Joshua Wong, is scheduled to return to prison for two months following the recent rejection of his appeal. In a sign of the deteriorating international reputation of Hong Kong’s judicial system, news emerged on May 21 that Germany had granted asylum to two political activists wanted by Hong Kong police.

BEYOND CHINA: US TV drama, NGO landlord, Taiwan and Dutch media, Ecuador cameras, Nepal journalists

  • CBS censors The Good Fight segment: The US television network CBS decided to censor an episode of the legal drama The Good Fight out of concern that it would offend Chinese authorities, the New York Times reported on May 8. An animated segment in the program—which discussed Chinese government censorship of sensitive topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre and deceased Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo—was removed and replaced with a black screen and text reading “CBS has censored this content.” Despite the network’s self-censorship, the episode (and in some cases, the whole season) has reportedly been removed from streaming websites in China, such as Douban and American Drama Everyday, because of its depiction of mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. The Good Wife, another CBS program of which The Good Fight is a spinoff, was banned from online streaming platforms in China in 2014.
  • Chinese firm vetoes Amnesty International office lease in New York: According to a May 13 report in the New York Times, Cosco Shipping, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, has refused to rent office space in a building they own in New York City to the US branch of Amnesty International. The organization regularly publishes research on human rights abuses in China. A representative of a Cosco subsidiary reportedly informed Amnesty that it was “not the best tenant for a building owned by a Chinese SOE.”
  • Taiwan media execs attend China gathering: Dozens of representatives from Taiwanese media organizations attended the Chinese government’s Fourth Cross-Strait Media People Summit in Beijing on May 10. The summit aimed to discuss how media in China and Taiwan could promote “peaceful reunification” and the “1992 Consensus.” Participants came from a range of television, radio, print, and online media outlets, including major pro-China entities like United Daily News, China Times, TVBS, and CTiTV, as well as members of local and national press and broadcast associations. In response, the deputy director of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, Ko Cheng-heng, stated that the Chinese government did not have the right to direct the activities of Taiwanese media.
  • Dutch publisher censors Xinjiang book review: Timothy Grose, a professor of Chinese studies, claimed in a May 13 article in the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel that his review of a book about Xinjiang was censored by the editors of an academic journal at the respected Dutch publishing house Brill. While the review of Tom Cliff's Oil and Water was originally commissioned by the journal, China & Asia: A Journal in Historical Studies, in early 2018, it was ultimately rejected for publication due to Grose’s explicit discussion of the reeducation camps in Xinjiang. The editor of the journal, Han Xiaorong, is a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a history of defending Communist Party policies in Xinjiang.
  • Ecuador using Chinese surveillance tech: China has supplied Ecuador with an extensive system of 4 200 security cameras that can be used to surveil the country’s population, the New York Times reported on April 24. The system, built by Chinese state-backed companies CEIEC and Huawei, is similar to those already deployed in China. Activists have expressed fears that such surveillance networks would allow authoritarian-leaning governments to engage in greater acts of domestic repression. The cameras in Ecuador have reportedly been ineffective at reducing crime, their stated purpose, partly because that would require far more police manpower to monitor video feeds. However, evidence indicates that under former president Rafael Correa, national intelligence agencies known for persecuting government opponents had access to the Chinese-built system. Similar networks have reportedly been sold to governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Angola.
  • Nepal state media investigating journalists over Dalai Lama reference: According to a May 14 report by the Hong Kong Free Press, Nepal’s national news agency RSS is investigating three journalists for circulating a news item about the Dalai Lama’s discharge from a hospital in April. The investigation comes as diplomatic and economic ties are growing between Nepal and China. The chairman of RSS, Hari Adhikari, was quoted by Hong Kong Free Press as saying, “We don’t carry news that is against the foreign policy of our country and affects the relationship with our neighbors.” RSS has long had a content-exchange agreement with China’s official Xinhua News Agency. 

FEATURED PUSHBACK: Smuggled video footage

On May 20, Fox News aired a television segment about a Chinese family trying to retrieve the body of a relative who had been killed in police custody in China after being detained for practicing Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement. The segment included secretly recorded video of the deceased woman’s brother-in-law confronting officials and being told that the body would be released if the family admitted that she died “naturally.” The report also covered a more recent episode from November 2018, showing video of a wife crying over the frail body of her husband, also a Falun Gong adherent, in a hospital where he had died after abuse in custody. Yu Ming, an entrepreneur who recently fled China for the United States, recorded these clips as well as others from inside organ transplant hospitals and the notorious Masanjia labor camp. He displayed for reporters a watch and car keys that held hidden cameras.

Yu’s videos are part of a larger effort by Chinese activists and foreign journalists to obtain sensitive footage from within China, particularly of detention facilities and prisoners of conscience, and circulate it abroad. On May 7, CNN posted a segment by China correspondent Matt Rivers showing the high walls and barbed wire of various camps in Xinjiang where an estimated one million members of Muslim minorities are being held for “reeducation.” The piece also depicts police efforts to obstruct the journalists, including a forced dinner with officials replete with folk music. It is clear that some of the video was filmed secretly with a device other than a visible professional television camera. Other recent examples can be found on the YouTube channel of Bitter Winter, a religious freedom website with a network of contacts in China. They include a series of videos of church demolitions in Henan Province earlier this month that show believers crying, praying, and confronting authorities; images of Buddhist statues that have been plastered over to prevent believers from worshipping; and a mosque demolition in Gansu Province.

Foreign journalists who record secretly risk being briefly detained, having their work destroyed, and being denied future visas to cover the world’s second-largest economy. Chinese citizens engaging in this activity face far greater repercussions, including potential imprisonment and torture. Despite the risks, however, Chinese activists continue to smuggle out first-hand video footage of abuse, in part because of its potential utility for raising international awareness and even ending repression if used to pressure the Chinese government.


Censorship related to Wang Quanzhang’s condition in prison: On May 20, the wife of jailed Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang met with authorities at Linyi Prison in an effort to see her husband. Wang was detained in July 2015 and held incommunicado for over three years before being sentenced in January to 4.5 years in prison for his work defending dissidents. Li was denied access to Wang but told reporters that officials showed her a disturbing three-minute video in which he appeared thinner, with greying hair, nervous gestures, and a stammer. Watch for increased international pressure on Chinese authorities to permit Li to see Wang and any censorship related to new information on his condition.

Huawei access to US technology: In the latest blow to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s reputation and operations, on May 16 the Trump administration added the company to a blacklist of firms with restricted access to American technology. Within days, Google announced that it would be suspending any business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software, and technical services other than those involving open-source licensing, a move that could hobble Huawei’s global smartphone business. On May 21, the US Department of Commerce issued a notice that Huawei would be allowed to support existing products for 90 days. Watch for the company’s final status on the blacklist and the practical ramifications should its US business dealings be restricted.

CGTN investigations in Britain: On May 8, British regulators launched an investigation into whether the confession of a British man on Chinese national television, aired in China and abroad, violated the British Broadcasting Code. The following day, a second investigation was launched based on a complaint filed by Angela Gui, daughter of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who made several confessions on Chinese state television after being abducted from Thailand amid a larger crackdown on Hong Kong booksellers in 2015; he remains in Chinese custody. Such televised confessions by journalists, lawyers, businesspeople, and others have emerged as a common phenomenon under Xi Jinping’s rule. The British investigations center on China Global Television Network (CGTN), the international arm of state broadcaster China Central Television. Watch for the outcome of the probes and potential penalties for CGTN, which may include revocation of its broadcast license and large fines. 


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