Authorities plan to establish propaganda department branches of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the offices of Chinese Internet companies providing microblogging services, according to reports and netizens.
The Party’s move, first reported by Taiwan’s United Daily News, is part of a bid to increase Beijing’s surveillance of public opinion.
The new measure follows a decision by central authorities to enforce a “real name policy” for all bloggers on China’s four biggest microblogging sites: sina.com, qq.com, sohu.com, and 163.com.
Beijing-based media expert Li Bin said the plan was unlikely to have a major impact on China’s microblogging community.
“I don’t think this new way of controlling people’s minds will work,” Li said in an interview on Tuesday.
“Netizens can express their views by using indirect words. If measured by the skill of using tactful ways to voice their true feelings, the Chinese are probably the number one in the world,” he said.
“Because we are dealing with an authoritarian or totalitarian power, we must be skillful with our choice of wording.”
Li Bin hailed the use of Chinese microblogging sites in the dissemination of information.
“[Microblogs] can transfer information extremely fast, especially news on social injustices such as forced land grabs,” Li said.
“These services informed people about the ‘Jasmine walks’ and other sensitive news,” he said.
The beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia last year sparked online calls for Chinese activists to begin their own Jasmine Revolution, prompting the detention and surveillance of hundreds of dissidents and rights defenders across the country.
Li explained why netizens prefer microblogs.
“It’s because the official media will not cover news that appears on [microblogs],” he said.
Phone calls to the microblogging customer service line at sina.com on Tuesday were answered by an employee, but the man declined to comment.
“We can only provide technical assistance, and your inquiries [about Party branches] are not part of our jurisdiction,” he said.
‘Doomed to fail’
Xiao Jiansheng, an editor with a newspaper run by the Communist Party’s provincial committee in central Hunan province, said that without microblogs to vent their grievances, social tensions would increase in China.
“The idea [of setting up Party branches] is doomed to fail, unless [the government] bans the use of the Internet altogether,” Xiao said.
“Social conflict is now very tense—like in Tibet, in Guangdong province, and in land disputes [around the country]. But the Chinese authorities are trying to crack down on these [situations],” he said.
He noted that in some cities, authorities are spending “tremendous amounts of money” to maintain stability by recruiting police “by the hundreds and thousands.”
“But how many of them are enough to protect [the Party]?” he asked.
“People must have their own channels to voice their concerns and anger; otherwise the whole regime will collapse.”
China’s netizens now number 500 million, more than one-fifth of whom use microblogs.
Original reporting by Qiao Long from Hong Kong for Mandarin. Translated by Ping Chen.