China’s Weibo blocks potential criticism of Vladimir Putin
Beijing has blocked any mention if Vladimir Putin on popular posts on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging service, giving Russia’s president an immunity from public criticism usually reserved for China’s Communist party elite.
The censorship was enforced at the weekend as US President Donald Trump met Mr Putin during the G20 summit in Germany, and underlines the current golden period of China-Russian relations.
China’s President Xi Jinping visited Moscow this month, revealing a $10bn investment fund and gushing that it was the “best time in history“ for Sino-Russian relations and the two countries were each others’ “most trustworthy strategic partners“.
The two powers have also joined forces to call for a mutual freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and US-South Korean military manoeuvres in the region.
Any mention of Mr Putin on the accounts of Weibo bloggers with more than 1,000 followers triggers the message: “This post does not allow commenting.“ Users remain free to mention Mr Trump and other G20 leaders.
Foreign leaders are seldom granted the safety from popular judgment granted to China’s own high-ranking officials, partly because criticism of Mr Trump and others serves to highlight the flaws in democratic systems, analysts say.
Mr Putin was the first foreign leader to enjoy the “privilege“ of protection from online criticism, said Cai Shenkun, Beijing-based columnist and critic. “People cannot say anything bad about Putin, just like you can’t have open discussion online about anything that might be sensitive for Beijing.“
Qiao Mu, an independent scholar and columnist, noted that while Mr Xi had long been on good personal terms with Russia’s president, “a recent medal he received from Putin in Moscow has sparked some online discussions. Generally, you can talk about China’s foreign affairs with no problem, but not when the discussion might involve Beijing’s own policies, especially involving Chinese leaders.“
The move comes as China has been clamping down on internet commentary. In the past month, domestic technology groups and media companies have shuttered hundreds of mobile video platforms, fired thousands of journalists and promised to promote state media opinions, acceding to government demands.
Beijing has cracked down on online content, with subjects from celebrity gossip and homosexuality to portrayals of Chinese imperialism among 84 banned topics, as it ratchets up its policing of online content.