In recent days, at least 10 popular financial blogs were wiped of all its content on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media platform, according to the Financial Times. In addition, two non-financial bloggers, including former state television commentator Wang Zhi’an who posts about social issues, had their accounts blocked on WeChat and Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
The clampdown comes as Beijing, through official statements and state-run media, escalated its hawkish rhetoric against the United States after trade talks between the two countries broke down in early May.
The U.S. administration increased tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports after accusing the regime on backflipping on key commitments negotiated over months of negotiations. It has also threatened to impose tariffs on a further $300 billion of Chinese goods. In addition, the United States effectively banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei from doing business with American suppliers, on national security grounds.
Official statements have consistently blamed the United States for the breakdown in talks. Meanwhile, state media have called for retaliation measures including cutting rare-earth exports to the United States, or outright halting business with the country.
The sweeping propaganda was briefly countered by a commentary published by Caixin magazine, a privately-owned media that often represents the views of the Chinese Communist Party’s pacifist faction.
In a June 1 editorial, which was scrubbed from the internet the following day, the publication criticized the state propaganda’s viewpoint, calling it “extreme nationalism” that will end up hurting the economy.
Since late last year, the regime’s cyber regulators have targeted “self-media” outlets, articles and blogs published by independent writers, in an effort to scrub the internet of so-called “harmful information.” More than 9,800 accounts were shut down last year.
Censorship During Sensitive Anniversary
During the period leading up to and following the 30th anniversary of the Chinese regime’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, Chinese censors have gone into overdrive to scrub the web of content relating to the 1989 tragedy, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
International websites were also targeted, with various media outlets blocked during the period surrounding the sensitive anniversary including The Washington Post, NBC, Huffington Post, and The Guardian, according to censorship monitoring service GreatFire.org.
Meanwhile, BBC Beijing correspondent Stephen McDonell, in a June 7 blog post, described how he was temporarily locked out of WeChat after posting photos of the candlelight vigil held in Hong Kong to commemorate the atrocity.
The message that appeared on his account said: “This WeChat account has been suspected of spreading malicious rumors and has been temporarily blocked…”
After being locked out for a day, McDonnell said he was only able to log back into his account after pushing an “agree and unblock” button confessing that his account was blocked for “spreading malicious rumors.” Then, the journalist was made to go through a “Faceprint for security purposes,” which required him to hold up his phone and look at the camera and read a series of numbers out loud in Mandarin Chinese.
After his face and voice was captured, McDonnell was allowed back into his account.