Chinese censors have blocked the US ambassador’s name from searches on a microblogging Web site after he was spotted at a pro-democracy gathering last weekend.
China has tightened control over the Internet in the wake of the unrest sweeping through the Middle East, underscoring the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) anxiety over the easy spread of information that might challenge its one-party rule.
The online censorship coincides with a rash of detentions after an overseas Chinese-language Web site, Boxun, spread a call for “Jasmine Revolution” gatherings to press the CCP to make way for democratic change.
US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, tipped as a US presidential candidate and who has sparred with China on human rights, was spotted in a crowd at one such gathering on Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday.
A video that was later posted on YouTube showed him talking to an unidentified person.
The unidentified Chinese man asked Huntsman what he was doing there and whether he wanted to see chaos in China. Huntsman walked away from the scene after that comment.
The US embassy was aware that Huntsman’s name was being “restricted on some searches” on China’s domestic Internet, spokesman Richard Buangan said, but declined further comment on the issue.
He said the ambassador and some family members were passing through the bustling Wangfujing shopping street and it was a coincidence that they were there at the same time as the planned protest.
Huntsman’s chances of running for the US Republican presidential nomination appeared to increase early this week when a group advocating his candidacy launched a fundraising effort.
Besides Huntsman’s Chinese name (喬恩·亨茨曼), searches for the words “Egypt,” “jasmine,” “jasmine revolution” and “Hillary Clinton” prompted a message saying the results could not be found on the microblogs of Chinese Internet portal Sina.com.
Authorities are particularly worried that people who use online microblogs — 125 million and growing — could use them to mobilize.
However, search results for Huntsman and Clinton could still be found on less popular Internet chatroom Tianya.cn and another Chinese microblogging site run by Sohu.com.
The Chinese microblog feed of Huntsman on Tencent Holdings’ QQ, another Chinese Twitter-like Web site, was still accessible.
Last week, China’s Internet censors deleted US embassy posts promoting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom from microblogs.
It is unclear whether their removal was ordered by the government or censored by the company that hosts the microblogs, Sina.com, which cooperates with the government under Chinese law to scrub content that is deemed illegal.
Twitter itself is blocked in China, along with Facebook and other Web sites popular abroad.
Chinese state media has limited coverage of the unrest in Egypt.
Access to the professional networking site LinkedIn was disrupted in China on Thursday, following online calls on other sites for more gatherings every weekend in China.