Chinese censors are blocking online discussion and sanitizing news reports about the unrest in Egypt, in a sign of official unease that the uprising could fuel calls for reform at home.
Keyword searches on the protests returned no results yesterday on microblogs and reader discussion of news reports about Egypt was disabled on major portals as China’s pervasive censorship apparatus swung into full gear.
News coverage of the demonstrations against the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was limited to sparse accounts that largely glossed over the underlying political factors and calls for democracy.
Coverage instead stressed Cairo’s lawlessness and the need for order — echoing calls by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs — and the government’s plan to send two chartered jets to Cairo to bring home more than 500 stranded Chinese.
Photos from Egypt were conspicuously absent from major Chinese newspapers, while yesterday’s state news broadcast omitted footage of protests, instead showing Mubarak meeting top officials.
“I would imagine the government put out some sort of order for all outlets to use only copy from Xinhua. That’s the standard procedure,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of the Beijing-based China media Web site danwei.org, which is also blocked by censors. “That way they can sterilize the depiction of the situation or portray it as something negative or a product of Western influence.”
Beijing’s reaction to the Egypt situation recalls similar curbs put in place during the so-called “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe a decade ago.
The Global Times, a party-linked newspaper known for its nationalist views, ran an editorial on Sunday headlined “Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy,” that warned of the chaos such revolts could trigger.
“When it comes to political systems, the Western model is only one of a few options,” it said. “It takes time and effort to apply democracy to different countries, and to do so without the turmoil of revolution.”
China’s countless blogs and online discussion fora — the main outlet for relatively free public expression — appeared scrubbed of the subject. Searches on the blogs of major Web portals returned an error message saying the topic was not allowed under “relevant laws.”
Keyword searches on sina.com’s Twitter-like microblog service, the market leader with more than 50 million users, returned no results on the Egypt unrest yesterday.