The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
All websites, please find and delete reports and posts on Luo Fuhe’s “Proposal to Improve and Increase Speed of Access to Foreign Websites” as soon as possible. (March 4, 2017) [Chinese]
The annual Two Sessions of the legislative National People’s Congress and advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference have been held in Beijing over the past few days. While the central leadership’s voice dominates the proceedings, individual delegates are also able to put forward their own pet causes and proposals. Among this year’s was a call to rein in internet restrictions, described by The Guardian’s Benjamin Haas:
China’s sprawling internet censorship regime is harming the country’s economic and scientific progress, a senior official has said in a rare public rebuke of longstanding Communist party policy.
Internet restrictions had also cooled enthusiasm among overseas investors and should be relaxed for politically innocuous content, said Luo Fuhe, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body to China’s rubber-stamp parliament.
[…] “From within China, attempting to visit to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization or a lot of foreign university website is very slow,” Luo said. “Opening each page takes at least 10-20 seconds and some foreign university sites need more than half an hour to open.”
[…] “Some researches rely on software to climb over the firewall to complete their own research tasks. This is not normal,” Luo added.
Luo, a former scientific development official, said he hoped to work with others to introduce legislation lifting the ban on websites that are not politically sensitive and are necessary for scientific purposes. [Source]
In November, Freedom House described China as “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom,” while a Washington Post editorial accused it of building “the world’s largest online thought prison.”
Other delegates’ proposals this year include organ donation reform, the introduction of criminal responsibility for negligent parents, lowering the legal marriage age to 18 and abolishing remaining limits on the number of children couples can have, and cracking down on illegal immigration from Africa.
Last year’s suggestions included calls for an end to televised confessions and steps to prevent abuses of prisoners in pre-trial detention. Amid fears of repercussions for those raising such potentially sensitive suggestions, Amnesty International’s Joshua Rosenzweig told The Financial Times that “to the extent that the Two Meetings have any importance, it’s as a moment where the bounds of free expression and reporting become more elastic. If you’re left with few other options, this is the one chance you get.”
This freedom does not extend to non-members pushing sensitive causes, who are routinely detained or removed from the capital. The AP’s Louise Watt and Isolda Morillo describe one such case this year, that of a prominent advocate for sex workers and HIV patients:
Far from the pomp of the 10-day gathering at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Ye is among those caught up in an annual roundup of people the ruling Communist Party considers threats to the state, all to ensure the session passes without incident. Known critics are placed under tightened restrictions and ordinary people coming to Beijing with grievances are prevented from traveling or snatched off the streets of the capital.
This year’s meetings also come amid China’s broadest and most intense assault on civil society since nongovernmental groups were grudgingly allowed more freedom to operate more than a decade ago.
[…] Ye reluctantly left her studio in the village of Songzhuang last week on the orders of police. An officer reached at the local Public Security Bureau on Monday declined to comment on the case. Ye said she went to stay with friends in the nearby village of Beisi and within days again ran into pressure to leave.
“The Communist Party secretary of the village told local residents not to rent to me because I’ve long been on the blacklist,” Ye said. [Source]
Thousands of petitioners, who are often drawn to the capital during major political events to present local grievances to central authorities, have also been targeted, as Radio Free Asia reported last week. A BBC team planning to record one petitioner’s journey to Beijing was assaulted in Hunan and forced to sign a confession to trying to conduct an “illegal interview” and other “behavior causing a bad impact.”
Other topics at the Two Sessions have included a modest increase in military spending, despite recent calls for a bigger jump; a new “declaration of rights” and responsibilities for the public; elections in Hong Kong; pledges to fight pollution and poverty; tax and currency policy; a “Greater Bay Area” scheme to boost integration between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau, and the proposed transformation of Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone into a “comprehensive reform experiment zone” and “a bridgehead for the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.” The key document from the event is Premier Li Keqiang’s annual Report on the Work of the Government, available in both Chinese and English at The Wall Street Journal. For those lacking the appetite for the full 16,000-word text, China’s State Council Information Office offers some highlights, while South China Morning Post’s Jun Mai suggests some reading tips including “skip the first half” and “flip to the second-last page.”
Former South China Morning Post editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei noted “two issues which are not on the agenda but are most likely to be at the forefront of attendees’s minds”: the partial leadership transition anticipated at the Party’s 19th Congress later this year, and the political and economic uncertainties presented by Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States, to which Premier Li Keqiang may have alluded in his keynote address on Sunday. The proceedings have emphasized the Party’s central role and particularly Xi’s status as “core leader” or, less formally, “Chairman of Everything.” Xi’s consolidation of power, which critics suggest has distracted from significant reform elsewhere during his first term, is likely to continue at the 19th Congress with the strategic promotion of his allies and protégés. Conventionally, Xi and Li would be the only current members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee to continue to the next five-year term. But suspicions linger that Party disciplinary chief Wang Qishan will break the Committee’s unofficial retirement protocol as the head of a new unified disciplinary organ for both Party and state. This departure could pave the way for a rumored extension of Xi’s own rule beyond 2022. Three prominent contenders to join the Standing Committee this year have made cautious appearances at the Two Sessions. Read more recent updates on the 19th Congress shuffle via CDT.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.