Overseas censorship of Chinese issues

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Overseas censorship of Chinese issues refers to censorship outside the People's Republic of China of topics considered sensitive by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Censored topics include the political status of Taiwan, human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang re-education camps and the Uyghur genocide allegations, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, the COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China and the PRC government's pandemic response, the persecution of Falun Gong, and more general issues related to human rights in China.

Censorship is undertaken by foreign companies wishing to do business in China, a growing phenomenon given the country's increasing economic prominence.[1][2][3][4] Companies seeking to avoid offending Chinese customers have engaged in self-censorship and, if accused of offending PRC government sensibilities, have performed "a 21st century kowtow" by posting apologies or making statements in support of government policy.[5] These actions reflect the companies' prioritisation of profit over business ethics, an impulse exploited by the PRC.[6]

The PRC government pays 50 Cent Party operatives and encourages "Little Pink" nationalist netizens to combat any perceived dissent against its position on Chinese issues, including opposing any foreign expressions of support for protestors or perceived separatist movements, with the country's "Patriotic Education campaign" since the 1990s emphasising the dangers of foreign influence and the country's century of humiliation by outside powers.[7][8]

Censorship of overseas services is also undertaken by companies based in China, such as WeChat[9][10] and TikTok.[11] Chinese citizens living abroad as well as family residing in China have also been subject to threats to their employment, education, pension, and business opportunities if they engage in expression critical of the Chinese government or its policies.[12] With limited pushback by foreign governments and organisations, these issues have led to growing concern about self-censorship, compelled speech and a chilling effect on free speech in other countries.[13][14][15]

Censored topics[edit]

Traditionally foreign companies wishing to do business in China needed to avoid references to the “The Three Ts and Two Cs”: Tibet, Taiwan, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, "cults" such as Falun Gong, and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.[16][17][18] This included related topics such as the Dalai Lama who the Chinese government considers a subversive Tibetan "splittist" and opposes any expressions of support from foreign governments or organisations.[19]

In the early 21st century, companies faced potential backlash on a broader range of issues relating to China, such as failing to include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as part of China on their websites in violation of the One China Policy.[16] Further sensitive topics include: comments about leader Xi Jinping's weight,[20] including comparisons to rotund children's character Winnie the Pooh;[21] the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, disregard of the Chinese government's Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea dispute; the government's cultural genocide of Muslim Uyghurs and use of Xinjiang re-education camps;[22][23][24][25] expressions of support for the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests,[26] and the government's censorship of the COVID-19 pandemic.[27][28]

Academia[edit]

There is growing concern that the Chinese government is trying to silence its critics abroad, particularly in academic settings.[29] Historically censorship in China was contained within the country's borders, but following the ascension of Xi Jinping to General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, the focus has expanded to silencing dissent and criticism abroad, particularly in academia.[30]

There have been a number of incidents of Chinese students studying abroad in Western universities seeking to censor academics or students who espouse views inconsistent with the official Chinese Communist Party position. This includes intimidation and violence against Auckland University and University of Queensland protesters demonstrating in support of Hong Kong and Uyghurs,[31][32] challenging lecturers whose course materials do not follow the One China Policy by listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries,[33] and tearing down Lennon Walls in support of the Hong Kong democracy movement.[34]

In 2019 the PRC Consul-General in Brisbane, Xu Jie, faced legal proceedings by Drew Pavlou, a student who had organised a demonstration in support of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests. Pavlou alleged that Jie incited death threats by accusing him of "anti-Chinese separatism".[35] The court dismissed the suit on the basis of diplomatic immunity.[36] Pavlou was later suspended for two years by the university over allegations of discriminatory bullying and harassment of university staff and students, which he claimed was intended to silence his criticism of the university's close links to the PRC and reliance on Chinese student tuition fees.[37]

Academics in British universities teaching on Chinese topics were also warned by the Chinese government to support the Chinese Communist Party or be refused entry to the country. Professors who disregarded the warnings to speak more positively about the CCP have had their visas cancelled which prevents them from doing fieldwork in China.[38]

American universities have engaged in self-censorship on Chinese issues, including North Carolina State University cancelling a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2009 and University of Maryland Chinese student Yang Shuping apologising after harsh reaction to her commencement speech praising the "fresh air" of democracy and freedom in the United States.[39] In November 2019, Columbia University cancelled a panel on human rights in China titled "Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: Human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party and how they affect the world."[40] Panel organizers criticized the university for allegedly compromising academic freedom by acquiescing to undue influence and threats of disturbances.[41]

Confucius Institutes[edit]

Concerns have been raised about the activities of Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes in western universities, which are subject to rules set by Beijing-based Hanban that prevent the discussion of sensitive topics including Tibet, Tiananmen Square and Taiwan.[42] Institute learning materials also omit instances of humanitarian catastrophes under the Chinese Communist Party such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.[43] Foreign Policy has likened Confucius Institutes to the "anaconda in the chandelier"; by their mere presence, they impact what staff and students feel safe discussing which leads to self-censorship.[43] American critics include FBI director Christopher Wray and politicians Seth Moulton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.[44]

Human Rights Watch considers the Confucius Institutes to be extensions of the Chinese government that prioritise political loyalty in their hiring decisions.[42][45]

Concerns arose following the 2014 Braga incident, in which materials for the Hanban-sponsored European Association for Chinese Studies 2014 conference in Braga were stolen and censored on the orders of Xu Lin, Director-General of Hanban and Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters. Lin ordered the removal of references to Taiwanese academic institutions on the basis that they were "contrary to Chinese regulations",[46] which the Wall Street Journal described as a "bullying approach to academic freedom".[47] The incident led to a number of universities banning Confucius Institutes from their campuses,[48] including Stockholm University, Copenhagen Business School, Stuttgart Media University, the University of Hohenheim, the University of Lyon, the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania University, the University of Michigan and McMaster University.[49] Public schools in Toronto and New South Wales have also ceased their involvement in the program.[50][51]

In 2019 media reports emerged that four of the University of Queensland's courses relating to China had been funded by the local Confucius Institute, with the university's senate ending such deals in May 2019.[52] The university's vice-chancellor, Peter Høj, had previously been a senior consultant to Hanban.[52]

Several Confucius Institute contracts included clauses requiring the host university to follow Confucius Institute Headquarters' edicts on "teaching quality", raising concerns about foreign influence and academic freedom.[53] In 2020 the University of Melbourne and University of Queensland renegotiated their contracts to safeguard teaching autonomy in light of new Federal government laws requiring transparency on foreign influence.[54]

Chinese Students and Scholars Association[edit]

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association has branches in various overseas university campuses.[55][56] Many, though not all, of the associations are partly funded by, and report back to, the local Chinese Embassy.[57][56] One of the aims of the Association is to "love the motherland".[56] There is a history of branches pressuring their host university to cancel talks relating to Tibet, the Chinese democracy movement, Uyghurs and the Hong Kong protests.[58][59]

The McMaster University branch in Canada had its club status revoked in 2019 after coordinating its opposition to a speech by Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush with the local Chinese consulate, including sending back footage, in violation of student union rules.[59][60] The Adelaide University branch was deregistered for failing to follow democratic procedures.[56]

Airlines[edit]

In 2018, the Civil Aviation Administration of China sent letters to 44 international airlines demanding that they cease referring[61] to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries on their websites, or risk being classified as "severely untrustworthy" and subject to sanctions.[62] Despite being criticised by the United States government as "Orwellian nonsense", all airlines complied.[63] In 2020, Taiwan News reported that Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had convinced 22 airlines to undo the change.[64]

Airline Date Details
American Airlines July 2018 The American carrier stopped listing Taiwan as a country on its website.[65]
Delta Air Lines July 2018 The American carrier stopped listing Taiwan as a country on its website.[65]
Qantas 4 June 2018 The Australian carrier announced it would list Taiwan as a Chinese province rather than a separate country on its website,[66] after earlier stating that listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as countries on its website was an "oversight".[67]
United Airlines July 2018 The American carrier stopped listing Taiwan as a country on its website.[65]

Film industry[edit]

Hollywood producers generally seek to comply with the Chinese government's censorship requirements in a bid to access the country's restricted and lucrative cinema market, with the second-largest box office in the world as of 2019.[68][69]

This includes prioritising sympathetic portrayals of Chinese characters in movies, such as changing the villains in Red Dawn from Chinese to North Korean and making Chinese scientists the saviors of civilisation in the disaster film 2012.[69] Similarly, the 2019 DreamWorks animated film Abominable included the PRC's nine-dash line in a map of the South China Sea shown during the movie, which resulted in the film being banned in Vietnam, Malaysia and The Philippines as it disputes the PRC's claim.[70]

In 2016, Marvel Entertainment attracted criticism for its decision to cast Tilda Swinton as the "Ancient One" in the film adaptation Doctor Strange, using a white woman to play a traditionally Tibetan character.[71][72] The film's co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, stated in an interview that this was done to avoid angering China:[73]

The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he's Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that's bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, "Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We're not going to show your movie because you decided to get political."

Although Tibet was previously a cause célèbre in Hollywood, featuring in films including Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet, in the 21st century this is no longer the case.[74] Actor and high-profile Tibet supporter Richard Gere stated that he was no longer welcome to participate in mainstream Hollywood films after criticising the PRC government in 1993, acting in a 1997 film critical of the PRC's legal system (Red Corner), and calling for a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.[74][75]

International organisations[edit]

China strongly opposes the participation of Taiwan in international organisations as a violation of the One China Principle, and Taiwan may only participate in international bodies as "Chinese Taipei" or "Taiwan, China".[76][77][78]

Chinese Taipei was initially agreed under the Nagoya Resolution as the name to be used for the Taiwanese team at the Olympic Games since the 1980s. Under PRC pressure, Taiwan is referred to by other international organisations under different names, such as "Taiwan Province of China" by the International Monetary Fund and "Taiwan District" by the World Bank.[78] The PRC government has also pressured international beauty pageants including Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Earth to only allow Taiwanese contestants competing under the designation "Miss Chinese Taipei" rather than "Miss Taiwan".[79][80]

In January 2020, as the coronavirus epidemic expanded beyond China's borders and international commentators criticized Taiwan's exclusion from various United Nations agencies, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) blocked numerous Twitter accounts — including ones belonging to Capitol Hill staffers and D.C.-based analysts — after facing online criticism for excluding Taiwan from membership. Both ICAO and their Twitter account were run by Chinese nationals.[81]

On September 23, 2020, Wikimedia's application for the status as an official observer at the World Intellectual Property Organization was rejected by Chinese government because China's representative claimed that they had “spotted a large amount of content and disinformation in violation of [the] One China principle” on webpages affiliated with Wikimedia, and Wikimedia's Taiwan branch has been “carrying out political activities… which could undermine the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.[82]

Journalism[edit]

The PRC limits press freedom, with Xi Jinping telling state media outlets in 2016 that the Chinese Communist Party expects their "absolute loyalty".[83] In Hong Kong, inconvenient journalists face censorship by stealth through targeted violence, arrests, withdrawal of official advertising and/or dismissal.[84] Foreign journalists also face censorship given the ease with which their articles can be translated and shared across the country.[85]

Foreign journalists have reported rising official interference with their work, with a 2016 Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China survey finding 98% considered reporting conditions failed to meet international standards.[86] Interference includes withholding a visa to work in the country, harassment and violence by secret police and requiring press conference questions to be submitted for pre-screening.[86] Journalists also reported that local sources who speak to them face harassment, intimidation or detention by government officials, leading to a decreased willingness to cooperate with journalists.[86] Foreign journalists also face hacking of their email accounts by the PRC to discover their sources.[84]

The 2017 results indicated increasing violence and obstruction, with BBC reporter Matthew Goddard being punched by assailants who attempted to steal his equipment after he refused to show them footage taken.[87] In 2017, 73% of foreign journalists reported being restricted or prohibited from reporting in Xinjiang, up from 42% in 2016.[87] Journalists also reported more pressure from PRC diplomats on their headquarters to delete stories.[87]

Visas have been denied to a number of foreign journalists who wrote articles displeasing to the PRC government, such as the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Expelled journalists include L'Obs reporter Ursula Gauthier, Al Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan in 2012, Buzzfeed China bureau chief Megha Rajagopalan in 2018, and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who was denied a visa in 2019 after being hired by AFP.[88][89]

As a result of increasing intimidation and the threat of being denied a visa, foreign journalists operating in China have increasingly engaged in self-censorship.[85] Topics avoided by journalists include Xinjiang, Tibet and Falun Gong.[85] Despite this, controversial stories continue to be published on occasion, such as the hidden wealth of political elites including Wen Jiabao[90] and Xi Jinping.[91][85]

The PRC government has also increasingly sought to influence public opinion abroad by hiring foreign reporters for state media outlets and paying for officially sanctioned "China Watch" inserts to be included in overseas newspapers including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Telegraph.[92]

Diplomacy and foreign relations[edit]

Since Xi Jinping took control over foreign affairs for the People's Republic of China, the regime has adopted "a truculent posture"[93] in international relations, including what is said about China or its interests. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has observed that "Xi doesn’t want to censor information just in his own country; he also wants to censor our own discussions in the West."[94] A key example is how Beijing opposes any meeting by foreign politicians with the Dalai Lama, even in a personal capacity.[95] However, its response differs depending on the political leaders and nations involved.

Australia[edit]

Statement from Andrew Hastie MP and Senator James Paterson following their being blocked from visiting China.

By November 2019 the PRC refused travel visas to Australian politicians Andrew Hastie and James Paterson after they criticised the Chinese Communist Party, its interference in Australian politics and its poor human rights record.[96] The Chinese Embassy stated that the pair needed to "repent" before they would be allowed into the country, which Hastie and Paterson refused.[97]

Canada[edit]

In 2015 the PRC detained then deported a Chinese-Canadian politician Richard Lee on the basis he had "endangered national security" by speaking out against PRC interference in Canadian politics.[98]

Czechia[edit]

Zdeněk Hřib, the mayor of Prague, decided to maintain official relations with Taiwan — seen here with the Tawain Minister, Joseph Wu on 1 April 2019.jpg

Soon after becoming mayor of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib hosted a meeting of foreign diplomats, and was asked by the Chinese ambassador to expel the Taiwanese representative. He refused to do so.[99] China pointed out that Prague had already agreed to a One-China policy when the previous mayor had entered an agreement to make Beijing Prague's twin city.[100][101] When, Hřib asked to renegotiate the agreement, China cut off contact, refusing to reply to letters or emails, threatening to withhold funds for a Prague soccer club and unilaterally canceled the Prague Symphony Orchestra's China tour, moves which Hřib described as "bullying."[100][102] In January 2020, Hřib ended Prague's city-to-city agreement with Beijing, creating a new agreement with Taipei instead.[103] When Czech Senator Jaroslav Kubera announced plans to visit Taiwan, China announced that “Czech companies whose representatives visit Taiwan with Chairman Kubera will not be welcome in China or with the Chinese people."[104] Shortly after receiving this threat, Kubera died of a heart attack.[100]

Germany[edit]

In 2016, the Chinese Ambassador to Germany "put massive pressure" on the Chairman of the Bundestag's Human Rights Committee, Michael Brand, a member of the conservative CDU party, in connection to his work exposing human rights abuses in Tibet. He later said, "self-censorship is out of the question."[105]

In August 2019, a delegation of the German Bundestag due to visit China had all their visas blocked as one of its members, Margarete Bause, a Green, is a vocal supporter of the Muslim Uyghur minority. She believes that to be "an attempt at silencing parliamentarians who support human rights loudly and clearly."[106]

New Zealand[edit]

Jenny Shipley was Prime Minister of New Zealand and, after leaving politics, served as a director of China Construction Bank global board for six years from 2007 to 2013, then as Chair of China Construction Bank New Zealand up until 31 March 2019. In a case of what may be compelled speech, rather than restricted speech, the former Prime Minister appeared to write an opinion piece, "We need to learn to listen to China"[107] in the Communist Party controlled newspaper, People's Daily. It contained strong endorsements of current Chinese foreign policy, such as “The belt and road initiative (BRI) proposed by China is one of the greatest ideas we’ve ever heard globally. It is a forward-looking idea, and in my opinion, it has the potential to create the next wave of economic growth."[108] Ms Shipley later denied ever writing the article."[109]

In May 2020 efforts were made to silence criticism of China by Winston Peters, the current serving Foreign Minister of New Zealand. Matthew Hooton, a columnist at The New Zealand Herald threatened that Peters should be sacked if he insults China one more time.[110] Hooton did not disclose his conflict of interest, that he has been Mongolia's Honorary Consul to New Zealand since December 2017.

Sweden[edit]

On 15 November 2019 the Culture Minister of Sweden, Amanda Lind, went against the wishes of the Chinese Communist Party leadership and awarded Gui Minhai the PEN Tucholsky prize in absentia.[111] Mr Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen[112] had published poetry critical of communist China and was said to be preparing a book about the love life of Xi Jinping[113] before he was arrested by Chinese security agents on a train from Shanghai to Beijing.[114] Following the award, China's embassy in Stockholm released a statement saying that Minister Lind's attendance was "a serious mistake" and that "wrong deeds will only meet with bad consequences."[112] In the days afterwards China's Ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, announced that "two large delegations of businessmen who were planning to travel to Sweden have cancelled their trip"[115] Ms Lind has already been threatened with a ban on entering China if she went ahead with the prize giving.[112] Later that month the Ambassador later gave an interview on Swedish public radio in which he said, "We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns."[116]

The Thai Actor Vachirawit Chiva-aree was targeted on Twitter and Instagram after he liked a photo identifying Hong Kong as a country.

Thailand[edit]

The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok made a statement on 14 April 2020 criticising Thai people who question the One-China Principle.[117][118] The statement came as a response to a Thai actor, Vachirawit "Bright" Chivaaree, who liked a Tweet featuring cityscapes, one being Hong Kong, with a caption describing them as countries.[119] His girlfriend was also found to have shared an Instagram post which suggested that Taiwan is not part of China. This began a "Thai-Chinese Meme War" of 2 million tweets, which, at an early point, forced an apology from the actor.[120] The CCP controlled Global Times claimed Bright's show, 2gether experienced a "backlash" in China, as had his follower count on Sina Weibo.[121] However, the incident had the effect of creating, according to Reuters, "The Milk Tea Alliance" which has become a grassroots democracy movement in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong.[122][123]

United Kingdom[edit]

In 2019, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom warned that country's politicians against adopting a "colonial mindset" and observing limits in their comments on issues such as the Hong Kong protests and South China Sea dispute with China's neighbours.[124] China later suspended the Stock Connect link between the Shanghai and London stock exchanges, in part due to the United Kingdom's support for Hong Kong protesters.[125]

Publishing[edit]

Cambridge University Press drew criticism in 2017 for removing articles from its China Quarterly covering topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the Cultural Revolution to avoid having its Chinese operations shut down.[126][127] Springer Nature also acceded to Chinese demands to censor articles relating to Chinese politics, Taiwan, Tibet and human rights.[128][129] In August 2020, Springer Nature was reported to have rejected the publication of an article at the behest of its co-publisher, Wenzhou Medical University, from a Taiwanese doctor because the word "China" was not placed after "Taiwan."[130]

In 2017 the Australian publisher Allen & Unwin refused to publish Clive Hamilton's book Silent Invasion about growing Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia, fearing potential legal action from the Chinese government or its local proxies under the auspices of the United Front Work Department.[131][132]

Publishers using Chinese printers have also been subject to local censorship, even for books not intended for sale in China.[133] Books with maps face particular scrutiny, with one Victoria University Press book Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica required to remove the English term "Mount Everest" in favour of the Chinese equivalent "Mount Qomolangma".[133] This has led publishers to consider printers in alternative countries, such as Vietnam.[133]

Whistleblower Edward Snowden criticised Chinese censors for removing passages in the translated version of his book Permanent Record, in which passages about authoritarianism, democracy, freedom of speech and privacy were removed.[134]

Technology companies[edit]

Several American technology companies cooperate with Chinese government policies, including internet censorship, such as helping authorities build the Great Firewall of China to restrict access to sensitive information.[135] Yahoo! drew controversy after supplying the personal data of its user Shi Tao to the PRC government, resulting in Tao's 10 year imprisonment for "leaking state secrets abroad".[136] In 2006 Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Cisco appeared before a congressional inquiry into their Chinese operations where their cooperation with censorship and privacy breaches of individuals faced criticism.[137] U.S. video conferencing company Zoom, which bases most of its research and development team in China, closed the account of a U.S.-based user who held a Zoom vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre.[138][139]

The Chinese government is increasingly pressuring overseas individuals and companies to cooperate with its censorship model, including in relation to overseas communications made by foreign people for non-Chinese audiences.[140]

WeChat, the China-based social media platform owned by Tencent has been described by the BBC as a "powerful weapon of social control".[141][142] WeChat is known to have censoring messages concerning the coronavirus.[143] A report by Citizen Lab found that Tencent also uses the platform for the surveillance of foreign nationals.[141]

In December 2020 WeChat blocked a post by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a diplomatic spat between Australia and China. In his WeChat post Morrison had criticized a doctored image posted by a Chinese diplomat and praised the Chinese-Australian community. The company claimed to have blocked the post because it "violated regulations, including distorting historical events and confusing the public."[144]

Other instances[edit]

The table below includes notable instances outside China where a government, company or other entity has either censored, or been censored on, a China-related issue.

Entity Date Details
Microsoft 4 January 2006 The company removed the blog of Chinese journalist Zhao Jing from its MSN Spaces website, which was hosted on servers based in the United States.[145]
Nasdaq February 2007 In 2007 Nasdaq's Chinese representative Laurence Pan was detained and interrogated about access to its exchange by New Tang Dynasty Television, a Falun Gong-linked media organisation. That organisation was subsequently denied access by Nasdaq.[146]
Eutelsat 2008 The media company cut New Tang Dynasty Television's signal to "show a good gesture to the Chinese government".[146]
Government of Vietnam 11 November 2011 The country imprisoned two Falun Gong activists who transmitted radio messages into China for "illegal transmission of information on a telecommunications network".[147]
Bing 12 February 2014 The search engine censored simplified Chinese language results for users in the United States for search terms including "Dalai Lama", "June 4 incident", Falun Gong and anti-censorship tool Freegate.[148]
LinkedIn 4 June 2014 The company blocked users outside China from viewing content posted by Chinese users that is restricted by the Chinese government.[149]
Chou Tzu-yu 16 January 2016 The Taiwan-born K-pop singer issued an apology for being pictured with the Taiwanese flag, following sustained online attacks on her and her band Twice by Chinese internet users.[150]
Microsoft 22 November 2016 The company programmed its Chinese language artificial intelligence-based chatbot Xiaobing to avoid discussing sensitive topics such as Tiananmen Square.[151]
Apple Inc. 7 January 2017 The company removed the New York Times app from its Chinese app store following Chinese government advice that it violated local regulations.[152] This led to the company being accused by online advocates of "globalising Chinese censorship".[153]
Allen & Unwin 12 November 2017 The Australian publisher refused to publish Clive Hamilton's book Silent Invasion about growing Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia on the basis that it feared legal action from the Chinese government or its proxies.[131]
Marriott International 12 January 2018 The hotel chain issued an apology and was ordered by the Cyberspace Administration of China to shut its Chinese website and booking application for one week after an employee managing its social media "liked" a tweet thanking the company for listing Tibet as a country on a customer questionnaire alongside Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.[154] After the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration ordered the company to "seriously deal with the people responsible", it dismissed the employee.[155][156]
Mercedes Benz 7 February 2018 The German car maker issued an apology on Weibo for "hurting the feelings" of the people of China after quoting the Dalai Lama on Instagram, a service banned in China.[157] The company also sent a formal letter to the Chinese Ambassador in Germany, stating that it had "no intention of questioning or challenging in any manner China's sovereignty or territorial integrity."[citation needed]
Gap Inc. 15 May 2018 The company apologised after photographs circulated of a t-shirt sold in Canada that featured a map of China omitting Taiwan, Tibet and China's South China Sea territorial claim.[158][159]
Valve Corporation 26 February 2019 Valve Corporation removed the Taiwanese-developed game Devotion from Steam after it was review bombed due to an unflattering reference to Xi Jinping.[160][161]
TikTok 25 September 2019 The Guardian revealed the TikTok app's moderation guidelines prohibiting content mentioning Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence and Falun Gong.[162] Content criticising the Chinese government's persecution of ethnic minorities or mentioning the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests are also removed.[11] ByteDance, the app's Beijing-based owner responded to the media reports by stating that the leaked moderation guidelines were "outdated" and that it had introduced localised guidelines for different countries.[162] Searches relating to Hong Kong on the app found no content referencing the ongoing protests.[163] Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also criticised the platform for its censorship of Hong Kong protest content, asking "is this the internet we want?"[164]
Apple Inc. 2 October 2019 The company banned the HKmap.live app from its App Store, which allowed for crowd-sourced information about the location of protestors and police in Hong Kong.[165] It did so on the basis that the app "allowed users to evade law enforcement".[166] The same month Apple banned the Quartz app due to its coverage of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests.[167]
Sheraton 3 October 2019 The chain's Stockholm hotel cancelled a celebration of Taiwan's Double Ten national holiday after pressure from the Chinese Ambassador; it was moved to a local museum.[168][169]
Tiffany & Co. 7 October 2019 The jewellery company deleted a photo on one of its social media accounts of a woman covering one eye, which a number of Chinese internet users considered to evoke the image of a Hong Kong protestor who had been shot in one eye.[16]
Activision Blizzard 8 October 2019 In the Blitzchung controversy, the company withdrew the prize from the winner of an online game tournament after he wore a mask and spoke in support of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests in a post-game interview, stating "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times".[170] The company is partly owned by Tencent.[16] In August 2020, Activision Blizzard removed imagery of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests from its trailer of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.[171]
ESPN 8 October 2019 Chuck Salituro, the channel's senior news director, sent an internal memo to staff banning any discussion of political issues concerning China or Hong Kong when covering the controversy of Daryl Morey's tweet in support of Hong Kong protestors.[172]
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia 9 October 2019 Center staff removed fans shouting "Free Hong Kong" at a pre-season game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Guangzhou Loong Lions.[173]
National Basketball Association 10 October 2019 CNN journalist Christina Macfarlane was shut down and had her microphone removed at an NBA press conference after asking players James Harden and Russell Westbrook if they would feel differently about speaking out in future following the NBA's censorship of comments that are critical of China.[174]
Christian Dior 17 October 2019 Christian Dior issued a public apology on its Weibo account for displaying a map during a university presentation that did not include Taiwan.[175]
Maserati 25 October 2019 Maserati asked a local car dealership to cut all ties with Taiwan's Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards and stated that it "firmly upholds the one-China principle."[176]
Shutterstock 6 November 2019 In November 2019, The Intercept reported that Shutterstock censors certain search results for users in mainland China.[177][178] The six banned terms were "President Xi", "Chairman Mao", "Taiwan flag", "dictator", "yellow umbrella" and "Chinese flag" and variations.[179] After 180 employees (one-fifth of the workforce) signed a petition opposing the censorship, company executive Stan Pavlovsky told staff that anyone opposed to its self-censorship was free to resign.[179]
WeChat 25 November 2019 Reports emerged that China-based WeChat was censoring users in the United States communicating about Hong Kong politics.[180]
DC Comics 27 November 2019 DC Comics removed a promotional Batman poster after it triggered criticism from mainland China netizens that its imagery, featuring Batwoman throwing a molotov cocktail beside the words "The future is young", was sympathetic to Hong Kong protesters.[181][182]
TikTok 28 November 2019 The platform apologised after blocking American user Feroza Aziz following a video which she made drawing attention to the mistreatment of Muslims in the Xinjiang re-education camps, which she disguised as a make-up tutorial to evade censorship.[183]
Condé Nast 6 December 2019 GQ magazine removed Xi Jinping from its "Worst Dressed" list on its website along with the caption: "It is not Hong Kong's courageous freedom fighters that Xi Jinping should have a problem with. It's his tailor. Xi gets totalitarian style cues from his hero, the mass murderer Chairman Mao, who enforced a dour and plain dress code for the Communist Party."[184]
Arsenal F.C. 15 December 2019 Arsenal footballer Mesut Özil posted a poem on his social media account denouncing China's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang re-education camps and the silence of Muslim countries on the issue.[185][186][187] Arsenal later released a statement distancing itself from the comments.[188] China's state broadcaster China Central Television responded two days later by removing the match between Arsenal and Manchester City from its schedule.[189][190]
World Health Organization 28 March 2020 Senior advisor Bruce Aylward faced criticism for saying he could not hear a question from RTHK journalist Yvonne Tong about whether Taiwan could join the WHO, asking her to move onto the next question then terminating the interview when she repeated it.[191] The World Health Organization has also faced criticism for downplaying Taiwan's success in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.[191]
European Union 24 April 2020 The organisation agreed to censor references to the Chinese origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,[192] with research suggesting that self-censorship on sensitive topics that may offend the PRC is commonplace.[193]
YouTube 26 May 2020 Reports emerged that since October 2019, comments posted with the Chinese characters 共匪 (gòngfěi or "communist bandit", an insult dating back to China's Nationalist government) or 五毛 (wǔmáo or "50 Cent Party", referring to State-sponsored commentators) were being automatically deleted within 15 seconds.[194]
FK Radnički Niš 10 June 2020 The Serbian SuperLiga football club fired goal scorer Hao Runze amidst pressure from the Chinese government, after his father Hao Haidong criticised the Chinese Communist Party and called for a federal China.[195]
Zoom 12 June 2020 The videoconferencing provider confirmed that it had suspended the accounts of users based in the United States and Hong Kong who booked meeting to discuss the Tiananmen Square Massacre and Hong Kong protests following PRC Government complaints, and that it would seek to limit such actions to people based in the mainland in future.[139][196]
ANZ Bank 17 July 2020 The bank distanced itself from its Singapore-based global head of credit Bogac Ozdemir, after he wrote a LinkedIn post blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic.[197] Chinese commentators accused him of racism and the bank received calls from the Chinese financial regulator and Chinese CEOs calling for his dismissal.[198] The bank issued a statement claiming that Ozdemir's post showed "a distinct lack of judgment", which resulted in him launching a defamation lawsuit.[199]
Charles Darwin University 29 July 2020 After a sustainability course run by engineering professor Charlie Fairfield featured an role play about the "Chinese (Wuhan) COVID-19 virus outbreak", Chinese students complained that the virus had been found in Europe before Wuhan and accused him of "racism and hatred".[200] The university apologised for any offence caused and stated that changes had been made to ensure it would not recur.[200]
University of New South Wales 5 August 2020 The university deleted social media posts about an academic's call for international pressure against the Chinese Communist Party for limiting human rights in Hong Kong, following a backlash from Chinese students.[201] The university issued an English-language apology, stating the deletion was a mistake and emphasising the importance of free speech and academic freedom.[200] The university issued a separate Chinese-language statement omitting its references to freedom of expression and academic freedom and which appeared to convey the opposite message, stating that the university did not take any political stances and was "disturbed" by any trouble caused.[202]
CD Projekt 16 December 2020 CD Projekt announced that it would not release Taiwanese-developed game Devotion on its GOG.com platform due to an unflattering reference to Xi Jinping.[203]

Opposition and resistance[edit]

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China was established by overseas politicians in 2020 following PRC retaliation against criticism by individual politicians.

In 2010 Google opposed China's censorship policies, ultimately leaving the country.[204] By 2017 the company had dropped its opposition, including planning a Chinese Communist Party-approved censored search engine named Project Dragonfly.[205] Work on the project was terminated in 2019.[206]

In 2019 Comedy Central's animated sitcom South Park released the episode "Band in China", which satirised the self-censorship of Hollywood producers to suit Chinese censors and featured one character yelling "Fuck the Chinese government!".[207][208] This was followed by a mock apology from the show's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which also made light of a recent controversy involving the NBA's alleged appeasement of Chinese government censorship:[207]

Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the great Communist Party of China. May the autumn's sorghum harvest be bountiful. We good now China?

The show was banned in mainland China following the incident.[207] Protesters in Hong Kong screened the episode on the city's streets.[209] The musician Zedd was banned from China after liking a tweet from South Park.[210]

Politics[edit]

On 4 June 2020, politicians from eight democratic countries formed the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party alliance focused on concerns with the PRC and the Chinese Communist Party, including its attempts to censor or punish those making adverse comments.[211] It is chaired by Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the British Conservative Party.[212]

Milk Tea Alliance[edit]

The Milk Tea Alliance describes an online democratic solidarity movement of netizens from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.[213][214] The Milk Tea Alliance arose in response to the increased presence of Chinese 50 Cent Party and Little Pink trolls and nationalist commentators on social media.[121][215] Milk tea is used as a symbol of anti-PRC solidarity by south-east Asians as tea is historically consumed with milk in their region, while in mainland China it is not.[216]

The "Milk Tea Alliance" moniker emerged in 2020 after Chinese nationalist Internet commentators criticised the Thai actor Bright for "liking" an image on Twitter which referred to Hong Kong as a "country", and called for a boycott of his TV programme. Twitter users in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines joined Thai users in what The Telegraph called "a rare moment of regional solidarity".[217] Australia has also been suggested as a member of the Milk Tea Alliance, although its link to milk tea is tenuous so the baby formula product Aptamil is used instead to represent it.[218] Following the 2020 China–India skirmishes India has also been included in some formulations of the Alliance with masala chai being their representative variety of milk tea.[216]

Pallabi Munsi, writing in OZY, described the Milk Tea Alliance as "Asia's volunteer army rising against China's internet trolls."[219]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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