By Xiaoshan Huang, Chingman and Hsia Hsiao-hwa
Internet censors in China have ordered news outlets and social media accounts to avoid posting anything critical of Russia or favorable to NATO, after Russia began moving troops across the border into Ukraine, prompting a flurry of international sanctions against the country’s leaders.
“With immediate effect, regarding all Weibo posts about Ukraine: Horizon News to post first [on this topic], to be reposted by other major accounts,” a directive from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s central propaganda department posted to Weibo ordered.
“No pro-Western posts, no posts critical of Russia. All initial copy to be reviewed by us [the CCP propaganda department] prior to posting,” the order, quoted by a video account linked to the Beijing News, said.
“Comments must be selectively moderated, and only appropriate comments must be published,” the order said. “Anyone publishing content will be deemed responsible for it, and genuine care must be taken. Each post much be watched for at least two days, and great care must be taken when handing over [to the incoming shift].”
The order, which was published by the China Digital Times, which curates and publishes similar directives under its “Ministry of Truth” column, said all topics should be confined to stories already published by Xinhua, the People’s Daily and CCTV.
Former Beijing News founding editor Cheng Yizhong confirmed the order was genuine.
“This is a multimedia account managed by the Beijing News … and it doesn’t just apply to them, but to other media as well,” Cheng said. “It’s always the case during a major international conflict that only opinions from Xinhua, CCTV and the People’s Daily may be published.”
“It’s one size fits all,” Cheng said.
Calls to the Beijing News rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday, with a request for an interview to a senior editor going unanswered at the time of writing. An employee who answered the phone at the central propaganda department said they couldn’t answer questions over the phone.
A senior Chinese journalist who requested anonymity said the directive is necessary because Chinese nationalists hold a number of grievances against Russia, including the claim that the country occupies “huge swathes” of Chinese territory.
Swift deletion of criticism
He said the propaganda directive was likely posted in error.
“Anti-Russian comments won’t get through on social media … even the comments will be cleaned up,” the journalist said. “The attitude of intellectuals hasn’t changed, but any criticism of Russia gets deleted from Weibo.”
He said Chinese investors generally avoid investing in Russia.
“Investors aren’t bullish about Russia at all, and they have all the information; they watch the markets,” he said. “You can make a lot of money by betting against Russia on investment markets; they think life there will get very miserable under sanctions, and this could even bring Putin down.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Wednesday accused the U.S. of “adding fuel to the fire” by sending weapons to Ukraine.
“Lately the US has been sending weapons to Ukraine, heightening tensions, creating panic and even hyping up the possibility of warfare,” Hua told a regular news briefing in Beijing, referring to the U.S. as the “culprit.”
“If someone keeps pouring oil on the flames while accusing others of not doing their best to put out the fire, such kind of behavior is clearly irresponsible and immoral,” Hua said.
Hua’s colleague Wang Wenbin said on Feb. 22 that “the legitimate security concerns of any country should be respected,” but called for dialogue and negotiation.
Foreign minister Wang Yi is known to be concerned about any eastward expansion of NATO, according to current affair commentator Guo Chonglun, but China has generally not been openly supportive of Russian incursions into Ukraine, nor its 2014 occupation of Crimea.
“China is facing a dilemma on this right now, because Putin has torn up the Minsk agreement, and forcibly separated [Moscow-backed Donetsk and Luhansk, or Donbas, from Ukraine],” Guo told RFA. “Yet China has yet to recognize Crimea as being part of Russia.”
Guo said “China is worried that in future, the U.S. might do the same to Taiwan,” in reference to the democratic island that has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
“Everyone is watching to see how China chooses its words … no country, not even an ally as close as Russia, should just destroy other people’s territorial integrity; that’s the crux of the matter,” Guo said.
Taiwan defense expert Shen Ming Shih agreed that Russia’s actions have a close bearing on Taiwan.
“If Russia is allowed to unilaterally recognize the independence of those two territories, then the U.S. could also recognize Taiwan as an independent, sovereign nation at some point in the future, should the CCP want to invade,” Shen told RFA.
“This is not a good thing for the CCP … currently, the U.S. neither recognizes Taiwan as an independent country, nor opposes its independence.”
While China and Russia are currently close allies, China will also be unwilling to set itself against the E.U. and NATO, as well as the U.S., Shen said.
Ting-hui Lin, deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan International Law Society, said Putin is unlikely to be deterred, given the massive public approval ratings his 2014 invasion of Crimea garnered.
“Putin sees his task as restoring the former glory of the old, imperialist Russia,” Lin said. “He doesn’t want to invade Eastern Europe or the rest of Europe, or the U.S., or China; he wants to … shore up the stability of his regime at home.”
Lin said CCP leader Xi Jinping could use an invasion of Taiwan in a similar manner, and that the Ukraine crisis for Xi could be a test of U.S. resolve when it came to defending the island against a Chinese invasion.