China’s president calls for propaganda war on Internet
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is showing signs of favoring even less freedom in China than his recent predecessor. He is distrustful of Western influences on the Chinese population, from all appearances. Universities are now forbidden to discuss “universal values,” like freedom of the press and democracy.
His latest target is the Internet, specifically, China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo. Xi, speaking tothe Communist Party’s propaganda chiefs, called on them to build “a strong army” to “seize the ground of new media”.
Sina Weibo is more free-wheeling than China’s Web-based blogs and websites, since tweets can become viral in a matter of seconds. Weibo users have used the service to criticize corrupt party officials, reveal hidden facts about disasters (like the 2011 high-speed rail crash in Wenzhou that killed 40 people), and discuss topics that are generally avoided in more traditional media.
The state calls such tweets “rumors,” and wants to squelch “rumor-mongering.”
Celebrities have Weibo followers in the millions, and have become the lightning rods for state censorship.
“The wording of his speech relayed in internal briefings is far stronger,” said a source. “The most impressive [point] is that Xi said the Communist Party should be combative, instead of being passive, and it should wage a war to win over public opinion. Xi also ordered the propaganda apparatus to form a strong internet army to seize the ground of new media,” he said.
The speech laid the ground for recent events that shook the new-media world.
On August 20, Beijing police detained several people connected with Beijing Erma Interactive Marketing and Planning, including internet celebrity Qin Huohuo , on suspicion of rumour-mongering.
On August 23, Chinese-American businessman Charles Xue Biqun , better known to his 12 million Sina Weibo followers as Xue Manzi , was detained on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes.