Fearing internal turmoil, CCP doubles down on censorship effort
From banning video games to placing new curbs on technology companies, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has embarked on a multifaceted censorship initiative to shield itself from domestic criticism.
The campaign aims to weaken tech giants’ control over information flow and eliminate criticism of the CCP’s actions, such as the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, analysts reported.
The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department in April 2021, for example, introduced a scoring system for online games made in China. Games can be banned if they do not promote core socialist values or what the CCP considers the “correct” view of history, according to an April 2021 report by researchers at Freedom House, a United States-based nongovernmental organization.
The new rule is one of many the CCP added to an already invasive censorship program, signaling an “ongoing CCP nervousness about domestic dissent and alternative power centers,” the Freedom House report stated.
Tech companies are a major target. The Chinese government in March 2021 requested that Alibaba Group dispose of its media assets, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported. Alibaba, an e-commerce company, owns the 117-year-old South China Morning Post newspaper, an English-language daily in Hong Kong. Besides acquiring the Post in 2016, Alibaba, pictured, has invested in other media outlets, including the streaming platform Youku Tudou, the Huayi Brothers entertainment company and the video-sharing site Bilibili, the Journal reported. The South China Morning Post is among the properties the government wants sold, which could curtail press freedoms in Hong Kong, Bloomberg reported.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma faced intense backlash after he criticized the government in an October 2020 speech for stifling innovation. “The authorities have toughened their stance toward the Alibaba Group as a whole, so the sale of media assets is likely a part of that,” a source with ties to a regional government told Nikkei Asia.
Another set of rules targets celebrities. An industry group under the PRC’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced February 5, 2021, that performers must adhere to 15 rules codifying long-standing unwritten rules, according to Freedom House. The rules require celebrities to promote the CCP’s line while not “undermining national unity” or “endangering national security,” the report said. Violators could be suspended or banned from the industry.
The CCP is also combining propaganda with its censorship efforts. An online push emerged in China in April 2021 to support the production of cotton in Xinjiang, which accounts for 20% of the world’s supply. The drive denounced international clothing companies for boycotting Chinese brands because they used forced labor of Uyghurs, the online magazine The Diplomat reported. The effort was made to look like grassroots support for the CCP’s efforts to retaliate against boycotters.
It started, however, with a March 24, 2021, post on Weibo that went viral. The post denounced international brands such as H&M, a Swedish clothing company, for boycotting Xinjiang cotton. It was authored by the Communist Youth League, which is part of the CCP. The CCP’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily newspaper, also published several articles, including one that celebrated Xinjiang cotton as the “best in the world.”
“By manipulating the state media and online response in support of Xinjiang cotton, the CCP has demonstrated its ability and willingness to deploy nationalist sentiment to counter international criticism over human rights issues,” The Diplomat reported.
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS