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Cairo protests make Chinese censors nervous

The online censors stepped in when comparisons between Cairo’s Tahiri Square and Tiananmen Square began spreading on popular Chinese microblogs.

world Updated: Feb 02, 2011 12:15 IST
Reshma Patil

The online censors stepped in when comparisons between Cairo's Tahrir Square and Tiananmen Square began spreading on popular Chinese microblogs.

This week, a search typed in the Chinese characters for Egypt was blocked on China's microblogging service Sina Weibo, which has over 50 million users. A search for Egypt leads to a terse statement: according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results are not shown'.

Asked about the online censorship at a media briefing on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei replied in one sentence: "The Chinese Internet is open."

The unrest in Egypt is being broadcast on national television. The newspaper coverage is dominated by approved Xinhua commentaries and reports about bringing back the stranded Chinese tourists. The first batch of 480 Chinese tourists was flown from Cairo to Beijing on Tuesday.

News and debate spreads fastest in China through blogs and networking sites. Beijing pays greater attention to monitoring the Chinese Internet, home to the largest online community of 475 million netizens, to block the spread of information with the potential to spark social instability and anti-government debate.

After ethnic riots in northwest Xinjiang in July 2009, China banned YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The websites are accessible through proxy servers. "Egypt is the hottest topic on Chinese Twitter," Chinese blogger Michael Anti told HT. "People are comparing Egypt to China 22 years ago. There are also many discussions on Sina microblogs, mainly because of stranded Chinese tourists, but you can't search for Egypt. It is banned." Chinese activists are tweeting a spoof about 'Mu Xiaoping,' comparing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with Deng Xiaoping in reference to Beijing's military crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in 1989.

The message in state media commentaries discourages pro-democracy revolution. "In general, democracy has a strong appeal because of successful models in the West. But whether the system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise," said a Global Times editorial this week. "In the West, democracy is not only a political system, but a way of life. Yet some emerging democracies in Asia and Africa are taking hit after hit from street-level clamour."

The foreign ministry has not made such elaborate comments. "Egypt is a friendly country to China," said Hong. "We hope Egypt will restore social stability and normal order as soon as possible."