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China’s Internet Censors Block ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Images on Social Media

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US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he arrives for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit banquet in Beijing, Nov. 10, 2014. RFA
  • The image in question showed the Disney version of Pooh and Tigger alongside a photograph of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama
  • The meme wouldn’t be the first time ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to crack down on any satire targeting the president
  • Cadres are also banned from posting about government business to either official and personal social media accounts without authorization

China, July 18, 2017: China’s internet censors appeared on Monday to have banned social media tweets containing a reference to Winnie the Pooh, after a satirical image drawing parallels between the cuddly bear and President Xi Jinping circulated online.

The image in question showed the Disney version of Pooh and Tigger alongside a photograph of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama during their “shirtsleeves summit” in June 2013.

“This photo has already been banned on Tencent,” user @Fantasy326_ tweeted on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo on Friday. “It won’t send, no matter how you use screenshots.”

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User @cha_mi said keywords linked to “Winnie the Pooh” had also been banned on Sina, but “Winnie the Pooh was banned” remained a top search query and hashtag on the platform on Friday.

Commentators appeared to have no doubts over the cause of the ban, however.

“Winnie the Pooh has been banned from the Chinese internet because President Xi Jinping has been compared to him on a number of occasions,” user@ñzan commented. “It is now a banned word.”

“The number of sensitive words in China just keeps on multiplying and becoming more diverse.”

The Financial Times said posts including the Chinese name of Winnie the Pooh were censored on Sina Weibo over the weekend, while a collection of animated gifs featuring the bear were removed from social messaging app WeChat.

The meme wouldn’t be the first time ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to crack down on any satire targeting the president.

Kwon Pyong, an ethnic Korean from the northeastern province of Jilin, stood trial on Feb. 15 for subversion after he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with satirical nicknames for President Xi Jinping, including “Xitler.”

19th Party Congress

Commentators said censors are clamping down on any whiff of online dissent ahead of the 19th Party Congress later in the year, during which Xi will be looking to cement his status as a “core” party leader for the next five years of government.

Veteran media commentator Zhu Xinxin said Xi seems far more concerned about eradicating the slightest whiff of dissent or criticism than previous generations of leaders.

“There is no humor here, just an obsession with preserving a totally idealized version of the highest-ranking leaders,” Zhu said. “This sort of dictatorial culture elevates national leaders to the status of gods.”

But Zhu said Xi’s sensitivity seems to be a symptom of his fear that he hasn’t yet won an ongoing power struggle in the corridors of Zhongnanhai.

“He is terrified of that things might get out of hand, and that it could be open season for satirizing various party leaders,” he said. “That’s why nobody is allowed to say anything to undermine his power and authority.”

Xi’s administration has stepped up a campaign against dissenting opinions both online and in the country’s tightly controlled state media in recent months, warning officials in January to stay on message when using the social media app WeChat.

Party and government officials have been warned not to use the internet, social media, radio, television, newspapers, books, lectures, forums, reports, seminars and other means “to make off-message comments about central government policy and undermine party unity.”

Cadres are also banned from posting about government business to either official and personal social media accounts without authorization.

The new code of conduct banning “off-message” statements was likely approved by the last plenary session of the 18th Party Congress last October, which was held behind closed doors, political observers said.

That meeting also formally endorsed President Xi Jinping as a “core” leader of the ruling party at the current plenum, potentially putting him on a par with former paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, whose authority must never be challenged. (RFA)


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Xi Jinping Calls for More Countries to Join China’s Belt and Road Initiative

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing

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China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue, outside Beijing, April 27, 2019. VOA

President Xi Jinping called Saturday for more countries to join China’s sprawling infrastructure-building initiative in the face of U.S. opposition to a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing’s strategic influence.

Xi spoke at a gathering of leaders to celebrate the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign project. The upbeat tone of the two-day forum, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders praised the initiative, is a setback for the Trump administration, which is trying to discourage other countries from participating.

Xi promised Friday to promote high financial, environmental and other standards in response to complaints about debt and other problems. That has the potential to heighten tensions with Washington by attracting more participants.

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing.

Xi tried to dispel complaints Belt and Road does little for developing countries that have borrowed from Beijing to build ports, railways and other facilities. Xi said his government wants to “deliver benefits to all.”

Other governments welcomed the initiative launched in 2013 to increase trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But some are struggling to repay Chinese loans, which has fueled complaints about a possible “debt trap.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the opening ceremony of the second Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, April 26, 2019. VOA

Critics also complain too much of the work goes to Chinese state-owned companies and the initiative might lead to corruption and environmental damage.

The United States, Russia, Japan and India worry Beijing is eroding their influence. American officials have warned other governments about potential debt problems and China’s possible political motives.

Xi’s government is trying to revive momentum for Belt and Road after the number of new projects slumped last year. That followed official announcements that Chinese lenders would examine borrowers more closely and concerns by some governments about Beijing’s rising influence.

On Friday, Xi promised to embrace international financial, environmental and other standards. He pledged to work more closely with multinational entities and to open projects dominated by Chinese state-owned companies wider to private and foreign contractors.

Despite U.S. opposition, the Chinese government says the number of countries have signed agreements to support the initiative has risen to 115 from 65.

Beijing scored a diplomatic coup in March when Italy, a member of the Group of Seven major economies, signed an agreement to support Belt and Road. On Friday, Putin said Belt and Road fits with Moscow’s initiative to develop a common market with four of its neighbors.

The Chinese leader repeated his promise to adopt “widely accepted rules and standards” and encourage Belt and Road countries to follow global standards for project development, purchasing and operations.

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FILE – Workers inspect railway tracks for the Belt and Road freight rail route linking Chongqing, China, with Duisburg, Germany, at the Dazhou railway station in Sichuan province, China March 14, 2019. VOA

“We welcome the participation of multilateral and international financial institutions in Belt and Road investment and financing, and we encourage third market cooperation,” said Xi. “With involvement of multiple stake holders we can surely deliver benefits to all.”

Xi’s promises on debt, transparency and anti-corruption “will be well received by some BRI countries and outside observers,” Kelsey Broderick of Eurasia Group in a report. Others including the European Union “will wait to see actual implementation.”

Chinese lenders have provided $440 billion in financing for Belt and Road projects, the country’s central bank governor, Yi Gang, said Thursday.

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Beijing is ordering Chinese state-owned companies to pay more attention to local economic development, benefits for local residents and environmental protection, the chairman of the Cabinet agency that oversees national-level government industries said Thursday, according to a transcript on the agency website.

Xi’s government also has tried to defuse tensions with Belt and Road participants by renegotiating debts or offering other concessions. Ethiopia’s government announced Wednesday that Beijing had forgiven interest payments owed by the northeast African nation through the end of 2018. (VOA)