China Blocks Comment on Egypt

Censors are removing comments by Chinese bloggers on the use of the Internet as a tool in Egyptian political protests.

2011.01.31
govtinternet305.jpg Ruan Yifeng concluded his post with this image of an Egyptian Pharaoh's mask.
Courtesy Ruan Yifeng

Chinese netizens have posted angry comments about the Egyptian government's move to unplug the Internet in the face of mass popular protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, defying a censorship ban on the keywords "Egypt" and "Cairo" on popular microblogging services.

"What does the Egyptian government hope to achieve? Does it really believe that everything will just calm down in the absence of the Internet?," wrote popular blogger Ruan Yifeng on Monday.

"If that was the case then there would be no need for governments at all to solve social problems."

He added sarcastically: "The Internet is full of rumors and slanders to bewitch people's hearts. What do they want to read that for, anyway?"

Ruan concluded his post with an image of an Egyptian Pharoah's mask bearing the words, "If your government shuts down the Internet, shut down your government."

While Ruan made no direct link between the Egyptian protests and the Chinese government's censorship of the Internet, others were more outspoken.

A blogger identified as Haizhe Siji commented on a photograph from the protests in which a placard held by a demonstrator touted Facebook and Twitter, not guns or machetes, as the key tools for revolution.

"The above photograph is from the demonstrations," Haizhe Siji wrote.

"We don't have Twitter or Facebook either, but while they turn heaven and earth upside down in protest, we just sit here and swallow our humiliation," the blogger said.

Comments removed

However, online activists said many comments in support of the Egyptian protesters had already been removed from forums and microblogging sites.

Chinese official media coverage has focused on efforts by tour companies and airlines to retrieve dozens of Chinese tourists from Egypt in the midst of the upheavals in Cairo.

The ruling Communist Party generally limits coverage of major confrontations between governments and citizens to an officially approved angle, and seeks instead to limit the range of public opinion on the topic, experts said.

"There are some websites on which people are finding it hard to run searches using the word 'Egypt,'" said Yang Dali of the University of Chicago.

"This is because comment and opinion are usually much freer on the Internet ... and the official Chinese media [are] hoping to control the direction of public opinion, whether it be in the case of Egypt or Tunisia," he said.

"The Chinese government has invested huge amounts in recent years to hire large numbers of people whose job it is to remove content that the government thinks is unsuitable," Yang said.

"But they would never just fail to report it entirely," he added.

Biding time

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said the authorities were also taking a cautious stance while the situation in Egypt was still fluid.

"The state council departments, including the propaganda department, are taking a wait-and-see attitude," Li said. "They don't know what the domestic reaction is going to be."

"Some of the websites are taking a very prudent approach, however, for fear that discussion on the websites could lead to some sort of instability," he added.

Guangzhou-based online commentator Ye Du said the authorities had limited news coverage to copy provided by the official news agency, Xinhua.

"You can still see news about it on some of the microblog sites," Ye said. "But they have deleted some of the critical comments."

The official Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that the "color revolutions" of the past decade had rarely led to a peaceful transition to a democratic system.

"History has shown that the course of democratization rarely runs smoothly," said the paper, a sister paper of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily.

"Very few of them achieve a truly peaceful transition to a new regime."

Li said the editorial was an accurate reflection of the official Chinese view of international events.

"They don't believe that simply changing the president is going to lead to democracy."

Tour groups to return

An Air China A330 passenger jet landed in Cairo on Monday, ready to bring back a total of 265 Chinese tourists in Egypt, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"We saw light-armored vehicles near our hotel on Saturday," said one Chinese tourist who had already flown back to Hong Kong. "By Sunday there were tanks in the city center. We weren't really that worried," the tourist said.

A Guangzhou-based tour operator said Chinese tourists would not be flying to Egypt, at least in the next couple of days.

"We have canceled all the tours from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1," said an employee who worked at the travel agency office. "Some of the tour groups already arrived back on Jan. 29."

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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