Horizon News, a video news network under state-run Beijing News, on Feb. 22 instructed staff to avoid posting any Ukraine-related content on China’s Twitter-like Weibo that may come across as unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western.
“Let me review your draft before you first put it out,” stated the Weibo post, which has since been removed. Commentaries, it added, must be “carefully selected and controlled,” while topic selections should follow the lead of People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV—three of the country’s foremost Party mouthpieces.
“Whoever publishes them will be held responsible,” the post stated, noting that each post should be monitored for at least two days.
Although China is well-known for its tight restrictions on press freedom, the post provides a rare, if small, revelation into the workings of Chinese media machinery and the inner anxieties of the regime as politically fraught international developments unfold.
While deepening ties with Moscow, Beijing is also cautious to avoid blowback by being seen as directly supporting a unilateral move to seize sovereignty of another nation—given the regime’s own designs in absorbing self-ruled Taiwan.
The need for China to handle the sensitive geopolitical event with especial delicacy was elucidated by Ming Jinwei, a former senior editor for Xinhua, in his personal blog.
“In the Ukraine crisis, a slight nudge will trigger a chain reaction,” he wrote, cautioning China to carefully handle relations with all parties involved to avoid “inviting trouble.”
China, he said, must “back Russia morally and emotionally but without overly provoking America and the European Union.”
Even though “problems principally came from America,” he believes the current situation is working in Beijing’s favor in its rivalry with the United States, and it would be unwise to draw Washington’s anger.
“Talk more, do less,” was Ming’s advice for Chinese diplomats, who he said should use private channels to convey their sentimental support for Russia and encourage dialogue in public settings.
It’s advice the regime has appeared to follow.
During an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 23, Zhang Jun, Chinese ambassador to the U.N., urged all sides to exercise restraint and “seek reasonable solutions … through peaceful means on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” China’s foreign ministry and Wang Yi, who is both the country’s foreign minister and the state councillor, have also made similar remarks.
As Russia moved troops into two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that it declared as “independent,” Ukraine has declared a state of emergency and urged its citizens to leave Russia immediately.
Since Feb. 21, President Joe Biden has imposed a slew of sanctions against the two breakaway Ukrainian regions, along with state-owned Russian banks and Russian elites. On Feb. 22, the Biden administration ordered more troops into Eastern Europe amid fears of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. Then on Wednesday, the E.U. also adopted a package of sanctions targeting 351 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.
Facing growing isolation from the world, Russia has bonded more closely with China. On the opening day of the Winter Olympics, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin flew to Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterpart, which ended with the two leaders announcing a “no limits” partnership.