While the world watches, and largely condemns, Russia’s threats and now a brutal offensive in Ukraine, one very prominent nation has been deafeningly non-committal on the matter. China’s external stance on the conflict in Ukraine is very middle of the road, but an apparent blunder by a supervisor at Horizon News (part of Chinese Communist Party-owned Beijing News) may have provided evidence of their policy that they don’t broadcast to the outside world.
The embarrassing error smacks of comical, innocent tech issues like your grandmother’s extreme close-up Facebook profile picture or a coworker who hits “reply all” for every single email. That is, until you delve into the troubling content. The directive from upper management, including the instructions: “Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western…” was posted to Horizon News’ verified account on the Chinese social media platform known as Weibo (pronounced: way-bwo). Apparently meant only for eyes of the state-managed news service’s employees, it instead was published for the whole Weibo-using world briefly on Tuesday before being deleted (though not in time to avoid being screenshotted and posted on Twitter, as well).
The post in its entirety, translated by China Digital Times, said the following:
Effective immediately, re: Weibo posts related to Ukraine
Send all posts from the Horizon News account first, then repost from the main [Beijing News] account in order to promote Horizon. Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western.
Let me look at drafts before publication.
Carry out selection and control of comments: first enable selective comment display, then let suitable ones through. Everyone is responsible for the ones they publish. Pay real attention to which comments are allowed. Keep an eye on [responses to] each post for at least two days, paying attention at shift handovers.
If using hashtags, only use those started by People’s Daily, Xinhua, or CCTV.
People’s Daily, Xinhua and CCTV refer to Chinese media outlets that are the strictly-controlled mouthpieces of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party. The post doesn’t tell us if the directive came from the very top, or is merely a tacit understanding within Horizon News to project the government’s interests. Regardless of its origin, it is a quintessential example of the Chinese media climate and possibly a sign of China’s growing coziness with Russia.
As noted by Newsweek’s John Feng, an autocratic regime like China’s will always have an interest in controlling the flow and tone of information on an international conflict that its people have access to. That being said, China and Russia have already seen significant growth in their economic partnership over the past two decades. This only figures to pick up steam with Russia having just been hit with heavy economic sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union in response to their invasion of Ukraine.
Furthermore, while China and Russia do not have an official military alliance at this time, they have established significant cooperation in endeavors like expanding their reach into space. And while the global flashpoints of Taiwan and Ukraine are certainly not mirror images, they share some geopolitical similarities, and of course, China and Russia both see the United States as a common hurdle to their interests in those respective nations.
In fact, China and Russia have been more explicit about their friendship very recently. A joint statement released from both countries just prior to the Winter Olympics in Beijing said:
“Friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”
It is possible that this particular instance is little more than a botched work memo from a state media employee, and nothing more insidious than that. Either way, it seems the friendship between the two world powers bears watching as much as ever.
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Feature image: Chinese State Council Information Office