Wednesday, 5 February 2020

As we have said repeatedly here, the figures offered by the Chinese dictatorship about the contagion and fatality rate of coronavirus are quite simply laughable  - the reality is far more tragic, of course.  Let me take a moment to reflect on the hecatombal amount of suffering that the vast majority of Chinese people are enduring at the hands of a brutal deranged Dictatorship that spends the equivalent of 600 billion US dollars on armaments its indigent and starving population simply cannot afford!

China slams shut its small window for online criticism 
Users vented frustrations at officials over virus outbreak for two weeks before censors stepped in 

 China’s censors are cracking down on an unprecedented surge in online criticism as anger swells over the botched handling of the coronavirus outbreak. After a short spell of tolerance, officials have stepped up efforts to remove disparaging content while local authorities have threatened harsh punishments to anyone spreading rumours linked to the crisis that had killed 425 people and infected more than 20,000 by Tuesday morning. The government of Xi Jinping — which operates one of the world’s most comprehensive online censorship programmes — is acutely sensitive to charges that it has mishandled the outbreak.

 Much of the criticism allowed by censors so far has targeted local authorities rather than the central government. Posts on Chinese social media platforms such as Twitter-like Weibo during the past two weeks have included a wide range of veiled references, puns and at times vitriolic language. In one post, Chinese netizens shared footage allegedly showing authorities in the city of Wuhan, where the crisis originated, pilfering a box of surgical masks, which are in short supply. The video has since been removed. Wuhan officials have been a primary target for online rage. One person on Weibo employed the now commonly used phrase “virus-appointed” to describe the leadership in the city: “Some local officials in this outbreak behaved less like human-appointed officials, more like virus-appointed officials.”

A user on Douban, a social networking site, used a phrase attributed to the writings of Mao Zedong, China’s revolutionary leader, to criticise the treatment of journalists reporting on the crisis. “They use all kinds of mean, shameful and cruel methods to blind people’s eyes, cover people’s ears, block people’s mouths; they don’t let civil newspapers exist, and don’t free those upright journalists,” the user said in a post in Chinese. The Financial Times could not confirm that the quotation was from Mao’s writings. China’s online censorship programme excels at keeping unflattering comments away from public view — including even light-hearted references that compare Mr Xi to cartoon character Winnie the Pooh.  Online criticisms, sometimes in private conversations via mobile messaging clients, have at times caused internet users legal problems.

 Experts have noted that the degree of criticism towards local government officials during the last week of January was unprecedented in the short history of social media in China. However, it is unclear why such criticisms have been allowed. Recommended AnalysisCoronavirus Tale of two doctors reveals how China controls the narrative “Many people have been able to make a wide range of comments about local government leaders,” said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. “It’s a big contrast with what we’ve seen previously. It may be part of the government’s strategy for managing discontent during the crisis.” Posts that have been allowed to be re-shared are mainly ones that have focused on the local government handling of the situation and accusations of local corruption at international organisations such as the Red Cross. “I hope that after the epidemic is over, the central government isn’t strengthened because of the incompetence of local governments . . . local governments are so foolish because [central government] power is too concentrated,” user Qianchaoshu said in a post that was shared 38,000 times before it was deleted.

 One theory among media analysts is that the central government has asked local officials to assume some of the blame to deflect criticism from leaders in Beijing, Prof Fu said. Recommended News in Focus podcast20 min listen China’s battle against the coronavirus But online commentators noted that many critical social media posts had been deleted. The Financial Times found that numerous posts that had been re-shared thousands of times were now unavailable. On Monday, the Supreme Court of Heilongjiang province warned that people who took advantage of the outbreak to spread rumours that disrupted the national political order could be sentenced to 15 years in prison. In an address, Mr Xi stressed that the party should do good work on propaganda related to the outbreak, a potential signal that the government recognised the need to improve its management of information linked to the outbreak. Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing

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