Beijing is controlling messaging on the war in Ukraine, analysts and observers say, as social media companies and traditional Chinese state media outlets have been suppressing voices critical of Russia’s invasion.
On February 22, Horizon News, an affiliate of China’s state-owned Beijing News, accidentally posted on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, censorship instructions related to posts on the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western,” the now deleted directive said. “If using hashtags, only use those started by People’s Daily, Xinhua, or CCTV.”
During an opening speech in Beijing last Friday, Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, commented on the war in Ukraine without naming specific countries. “I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” he said.
The China Central Television (CCTV) interpreter, however, did not translate that portion of his remarks during the broadcast.
Last weekend, Chinese video streaming company iQiyi Sports refused to broadcast English Premier League matches because of the league’s planned shows of support for Ukraine.
According to Carl Minzner, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, since the signing of the February 4 joint statement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Leader Xi Jinping, Chinese foreign policy “has been locked into a pro-Russia” stance.
“China’s top leader has personally tied his country to Russia. And that political orientation has set the tone for state media coverage of the Ukraine war in China itself,” Minzner told VOA. “Deviation from that stance, criticizing it, or even merely pointing out the horrific consequences of Russia’s war to civilians, risks raising questions about Xi’s own decision to support Russia so strongly at the outset.”
Last week, while in Germany, Chinese TV celebrity Jin Xing criticized Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through a posting on Weibo.
“A crazy Russian man said: If I don’t continue to be president, I don’t want this world!” Jin, who has over 13 million followers on Weibo, said in her now deleted post. “Stop the war and pray for peace!”
“I didn’t delete Weibo myself, it was blocked by the system!” she wrote after the online platform deleted her post.
On March 1, Jin asked users critical of her opinions to use their real names. She has not posted comments on her Weibo account since.
One Weibo user, Tao Wen, who has over half a million followers, commented on Jin’s post, saying, “The lives you respect do not include those who were massacred by the Ukrainian Nazis in eastern Ukraine,” a sentiment that echoes Putin’s justification for sending troops into the country.
Nazis, however, are not currently in charge of Ukraine. Its leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish and has relatives who were killed in the Holocaust.
On the website of Sina, the parent company of Weibo, an article was published Thursday about Jin’s deleted comment. The writer suggested that Jin’s career path in China “may not be as smooth as before” because of her post.
Sina Weibo is not the only Chinese social media platform where voices “unfavorable to Russia” are censored.
Wang Jixian, a Chinese citizen living in Ukraine since December, started posting on Chinese social media WeChat what he was learning from local Ukrainian news about the war.
“So, I was posting and nicely asking people to correct me or to inform me about the reality if they believe they know much better,” Wang said.
He soon discovered that his WeChat account had been blocked.
“I got so much unnecessary stress from WeChat,” Wang told VOA in a phone interview on Monday. “This morning, I sent my parents (a WeChat message), ‘Hey, I’m safe’ and suddenly found I had been blocked.”
Wang said he saw on Chinese social media stories about the war that were “completely opposite” to what he is seeing on Ukrainian media.
According to Yaqiu Wang, a senior researcher on China at Human Rights Watch, since Beijing and Moscow are strategic allies, Beijing “prevents Chinese people from knowing the truth” about the conflict.
“Information control has always been the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule of China,” Wang told VOA. “Without censorship and propaganda, without covering up its abuses and deceiving the public, the party simply wouldn’t be able to stay in power.”