Wary of Egypt Unrest, China Censors Web (Updated)

The unrest in Egypt is making China’s leadership nervous (even if many observers say they have little to fear), and they have responded by trying to limit access to information about events there. The New York Times reports:

Censoring the Internet is not the only approach. The Chinese government has also tried to get out ahead of the discussion, framing the Egyptian protests in a few editorials and articles in state-controlled news publications as a chaotic affair that embodies the pitfalls of trying to plant democracy in countries that are not quite ready for it — a line China’s leaders have long held.

The English-language edition of Global Times, a populist newspaper, ran an editorial on Sunday about the Tunisian and Egyptian protests with the headline “Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy.” Though Global Times is not the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the message of the editorial was consistent with official thinking, saying bluntly that whether democracy “is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise.”

Some Chinese news organizations have also seized on the ambivalent American reaction to the Egyptian unrest to underscore the hypocrisy of the United States in sometimes backing dictators over democracy. They argued that those who appear to be the greatest advocates of democracy sometimes have conflicted feelings about its spread, especially in the Middle East, where the United States fears the proliferation of populist radical Islam. China Youth Daily noted in an editorial on Sunday that “the increasing turmoil in is causing a ‘headache’ for the decision makers in Washington.”

…Some of the news coverage of Egypt that has appeared in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, and Xinhua, the official news agency, has focused on attempts by China to evacuate its citizens, simply leaving out the political discontent at the root of the unrest. Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on in China, said propaganda officials had recently ordered Chinese news organizations and Web sites to strictly follow Xinhua reports on Egypt.

But Mr. Xiao said some Internet forums were closely tracking the events in Egypt. “I can see the Egypt story being followed and discussed by active netizens everywhere — blogs, forums, social networking services like Kaixin and Renren,” he said. “It’s just not on the front page of major Web sites.”

Update: The Christian Science Monitor also reports on Chinese coverage of the Egypt protests:

“One major reason for the censorship is that Chinese officials do not know the direction of the protests,” says Russell Leigh Moses, a political analyst in Beijing. “Reporting depends almost entirely on direction from the leadership and uncertainty never produces consensus in Beijing.”

“You can see from the media that China is keeping a very low-key tone on this issue, and not giving it a lot of coverage,” says Prof. Yin. “That shows the government’s intentions.”

“They are nervous,” says Xiao Qiang, who monitors the Chinese Internet at the University of California at Berkeley. “They are more than usually tight, to ensure that only the Xinhua version is there.”

One Twitter-like microblog site did not return results for a search of “Egypt” on Tuesday, but otherwise the government order appeared to be only erratically imposed. The Hong Kong based Phoenix TV network, for example, which can be seen on the mainland but which is not subject to Beijing’s censorship, has been broadcasting live from Cairo without interference.

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