Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 7 June 2019


Censors at two of China’s largest social media companies appear to have taken aim at independent financial bloggers, as Beijing continues pumping out propaganda to garner public support for its trade dispute with the US. At least 10 popular financial analysis blogs on social media app WeChat had all present and past content scrubbed, according to screenshots posted by readers. The Weibo accounts of two non-financial popular bloggers, including Wang Zhian, a former state broadcast commentator who wrote about social issues, were also blocked.  One Shenzhen-based blogger blocked on WeChat, whose articles were still available on another social media platform, had recently written about Chinese tech group Huawei being put on a US export blacklist, saying that Chinese government support could help the company withstand pressure from the US.  The opacity of Chinese censorship means it is unclear whether the accounts were wiped by the companies themselves or at the request of the authorities. Sina Weibo and WeChat-owner Tencent did not respond to requests for comment.

 China’s government and its state-run media have in recent weeks ramped up nationalist rhetoric targeting the US, after talks between the two countries ended without a deal, worsening the acrimonious trade dispute. Officials often emphasise that China's economy and high-tech industries can withstand whatever measures Washington throws at them. In recent years, China’s cyber-space regulators have launched a sweeping campaign to “clean up” the Chinese internet, targeting in particular a group of bloggers known as “self-media” that publish articles outside the approval of government-controlled publishing licences — 9,800 such accounts were closed last year.  Once deemed largely safe from sweeping censorship, economic analysis and reporting has in recent years found itself increasingly in the censors’ sights as growth, a key source of Communist party legitimacy, slows.

 In the early stages of the trade dispute, some Chinese economists broke with the Chinese leadership to argue that Beijing’s model of state-led development was to blame, rather than the hardline policies of US president Donald Trump. Such views are now rarely expressed in public, and liberal thinkers who question the official party line or carry out independent assessments of Chinese growth, such as Beijing-based think-tank Unirule Institute of Economics, have found themselves at odds with the authorities. The crackdown on commentators writing about the economy comes during extensive efforts by China’s leadership to promote its favoured narrative on the trade dispute with the US.

The official Communist party newspaper the People’s Daily has used its authoritative Zhong Sheng — a homonym for “Voice of China” — column to, on an almost daily basis, lambast US policy, targeting everything from “American exceptionalism” to the US ban on suppliers selling to Huawei. “The United States repeatedly flaunts its ‘openness and innovation’, its ‘free competition’,” a Wednesday Zhong Sheng commentary said. “Its efforts to launch a ‘technology cold war’ and erect a ‘digital iron curtain’ by any means necessary have laid bare the true colours of certain American politicians who are self-contradictory and inconsistent in acts and deeds.”

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