Minitrue 2017: May—Taiwan’s Status, AlphaGo’s Victory
This series is a month-by-month recap of censorship instructions issued to the media by government authorities in 2017, and then leaked and distributed online. The names of issuing bodies have been omitted to protect sources.
In May, Taiwan’s top court ruled that the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman was unconstitutional, setting the stage for it to become the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. A directive issued late that month took issue, not with gay marriage, but with any language that might recognize Taiwan’s status as an effectively separate political entity. The news "raises sensitive political and social issues," it read. "Do not hype this story. Regarding terms such as constitution, Judicial Yuan, Legislative Yuan, President, etc., take note to use quotation marks." In January, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba had apologized for tweeting a graphic that showed China without Taiwan and the South China Sea islands, and the U.S. without Alaska or Hawaii. (Neither the White House nor the State Department appears to have raised any official protest.)
The month’s other directive ordered that a go match between Chinese prodigy Ke Jie and AlphaGo, a program developed by Google subsidiary DeepMind, "may not be broadcast live in any form and without exception, including text commentary, photography, video streams, self-media accounts and so on. No website [or] apps may issue news alerts or push notifications about the course or result of the match." Chinese journalists told Quartz’s Zheping Huang that they had also been instructed to play down Google’s role, or to avoid mentioning it at all. The match came amid what Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer recently termed "a two-way race for AI dominance" between the U.S. and China, which "has put the full power of the state behind its drive for AI dominance." The New York Times’ Paul Mozur later described AlphaGo’s victory over Ke as "a Sputnik moment for China on AI’s power," while the Center for a New American Security’s Elsa Kania commented that "clearly it and Google remain somewhat sensitive subjects. At the time, the Chinese military saw AlphaGo as indicative of potential of AI in command decision-making on the battlefield." That the machine beat a Chinese champion in one of the country’s most iconic traditional games, one which had long resisted computational attack, added insult to injury. In a recent postscript, Google announced the establishment of a new AI research center in Beijing.
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.