Chinese Authorities Mum on Xi–Trump Meeting Details, Censor US Embassy’s Social Media

December 4, 2018 Updated: December 4, 2018

Chinese authorities are still mostly silent on details from the meeting at the G-20 summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, while internet authorities have partially censored social-media posts from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

China’s foreign ministry, which is the only government department that holds a daily briefing that foreign media can attend, has repeatedly referred journalists’ questions to China’s Ministry of Commerce instead.

But the commerce ministry also has been quiet. The ministry is scheduled to hold its next weekly news briefing on Dec. 6.

One Chinese official told Reuters that officials were “waiting for the leaders to return” before publicizing details. Xi and his most senior officials, including the commerce minister and the country’s two top diplomats, are currently in Portugal and due back in China on Dec. 6.

While most Chinese media continue to run scant details on the meeting, some have begun mentioning the 90-day deadline for negotiations to continue before U.S. tariffs increase.

“Apparently, the Chinese government doesn’t want its people to consider the agreement as a failure for China,” Fang Kecheng, a Chinese media researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, told Reuters.

“The 90-day limit sounds like an ultimatum given by the strong actor to the weak actor,” he added. Fang is a former journalist for the mainland Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly.

Luwei Rose Luqiu, a journalism professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who was a former reporter with the pro-Beijing, Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, told Reuters that the Chinese authorities usually give little details to Chinese media about such bilateral meetings.

The initial official news report is typically drafted by the foreign ministry and approved by the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, she said.

Chinese state media are mostly positive on the talks, though. The typically hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times ran a Dec. 4 article noting that global stocks rose upon news of a ceasefire in the trade dispute.

Meanwhile, a Dec. 3 Global Times editorial published in its English edition bluntly admitted that “it’s almost impossible to overcome the huge differences between the two sides in 90 days.” However, the article said that the agreements made between Xi and Trump thus far are “a major breakthrough,” and that “it’s highly likely that 90 days of effort could build a certain trust and lead to compromises that are acceptable to both.”

US Embassy’s Social-Media Posts

But the U.S. Embassy’s social-media posts are being censored, preventing Chinese citizens from accessing information about the G-20 talks outside of what Chinese media have been allowed to report on.

On the popular WeChat social-media platform on Dec. 3, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing posted in full the White House press secretary’s official statement on the talks, as well as a Chinese translation. The post was visible but blocked from being re-posted or shared.

A separate WeChat post by the U.S. Embassy on the passing of former President George H.W. Bush didn’t have such restrictions, according to a Bloomberg report.

On Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter, the U.S. Embassy also posted a Chinese-language message explaining details from the G-20 talks mentioned in the White House statement. However, as of Dec. 4, users couldn’t expand the post to read the full message. The sentences that are visible explain the fentanyl designation, the halting of tariff increases, and China’s promise to buy more “U.S. agricultural, energy, industrial, and other goods.”

Some netizens also commented on the post, saying that their comments weren’t publicly visible. The re-posting and sharing functions also didn’t work, they said.

Because comments on an account belonging to a U.S. entity are less likely to be censored by China’s internet monitors, the U.S. Embassy’s Weibo account has long been considered a rare safe haven for free speech in China, allowing netizens to speak their minds. Earlier this year, netizens were able to comment freely on the U.S.-China trade dispute.

One Weibo commenter also mentioned that the QR code that allows users to access the U.S. Embassy’s account on WeChat was no longer working.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @annieeenyc