China Appears to Censor Pence’s Debate Comments Critical of Communist Regime

October 8, 2020 Updated: October 9, 2020

Chinese censors appeared to have interrupted remarks made by Vice President Mike Pence during the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate that were critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The debate between Pence and Democratic challenger Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was broadcast in China on U.S. broadcaster CNN. The news channel can only be viewed in Chinese homes where foreigners live, in international hotels, or by certain authorities or academic institutions, according to Australian Associated Press (AAP).

About 30 seconds of the debate was abruptly cut off as Pence began to criticize the Chinese regime, saying “China is to blame,” referring to the CCP virus pandemic that has infected more than 7.5 million Americans—including President Donald Trump—and killed more than 211,000.

First to report the interruption was Nathan VanderKlippe, the Globe and Mail’s Beijing correspondent, who shared two images of his television screen, with one showing a test image reading: “No signal, please stand by.”

“China censored Pence’s comments on China,” VanderKlippe wrote. “Signal returned when Harris began talking again.”

“What it looks like when China censors a vice presidential debate after a question about China is asked—and then lifts the blackout when conversation appears set to move on,” he wrote in a separate Twitter post.

The blocked portion of the debate included remarks from Pence echoing the Trump administration’s line that the Chinese communist regime’s coverup and mismanagement are to blame for the pandemic.

“China is to blame for the coronavirus and President Trump is not happy about it,” Pence said. “China and the World Health Organization did not play straight with the American people, they did not let our personnel into China to get information on the coronavirus until the middle of February.”

The broadcast resumed when the debate topic changed.

In a similar incident in September, the BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonnell said the broadcaster’s coverage was censored on multiple occasions, including once when he was set to talk about the U.S. government bans on imports from five of China’s entities accused of using ethnic Uyghurs as forced labor.

“When censors pull @BBCWorld’s TV feed in #China (as they just did during coverage of a #HongKong court case) this is what now comes up on the screen instead of just black. ‘No signal’? Looks like attempted deception to me, implying a technical difficulty rather than censorship,” McDonnell wrote.

While censorship in China has tightened under CCP leader Xi Jinping, questions of transparency surrounding the current outbreak are especially sensitive after Beijing’s coverup of the extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic fueled suspicion and mistrust, and led to official calls for openness this time.

Content from U.S. channels is regularly blocked by Chinese censors if it’s deemed critical of the communist regime.

Responding to the censoring, Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump’s reelection campaign, posted on Twitter: “China censored Mike Pence, but let their people hear Kamala Harris. What’s that tell you?”

Reuters contributed to this report.