- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Chinese government instructions posted on social media reveal that Chinese Communist Party propaganda organs have been ordered to avoid criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The instructions appeared on the Weibo social media account of Horizon News, an affiliate of the state-run Beijing News that focuses on foreign affairs.

The leaked Feb. 22 instructions state that effective immediately all Weibo posts from Horizon News related to Ukraine should be reposted on Beijing News.

“Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western,” the posting said.

Additionally, all social media posts must be reviewed by a Horizon official who also warned in the post that comments in response to Weibo posts must be controlled to allow “suitable ones through” censors’ review.

“Everyone is responsible for the ones they publish,” the Horizon post says. “Pay real attention to which comments are allowed. Keep an eye on [responses to] each post for at least two days, paying attention at shift handovers.”

In China, officials who work for propaganda outlets and news sites can face severe penalties for not following official censorship guidelines. The penalties can include firing and imprisonment.

As for the use of social media hashtags, the Horizon post stated that only hashtags first used by the People’s Daily, the official Chinese Communist Party newspaper, and CCTV, the state-run television network should be used in its social media posts.

The Weibo post was removed a short time after it was published but generated numerous comments to Horizon about the orders.

The instructions highlight the Chinese government’s tacit support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.

China Digital Times, a U.S.-based news outlet that first reported the instructions, said such guidelines are not meant for public release and the directive is similar to other propaganda instructions disclosed unofficially in the past.

“Shielding Russia from negative coverage, injunctions against pro-Western messaging, and especially orders to follow the lead of central state media are all common elements of official media directives,” China Digital Times reported.

The author of the Horizon post appeared to be relaying official Chinese Propaganda Department instructions. It is also possible the posting reflected the official’s expected propaganda coverage of the Ukraine crisis.

In another case in 2013, a Weibo post from a Chinese entertainer included instructions to post a specific comment “around 8:20.” The guidance was part of a Chinese government propaganda campaign to criticize Apple’s customer service in China.

The entertainer, Peter Ho, initially claimed the Weibo post was the result of a compromise of his account but later revealed the post had been arranged by “a certain website” he did not identify.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beijing News in the past has deviated from the official propaganda talking points. In 2012, Beijing News denounced blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who made a sensational escape from house arrest and was sheltered in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The news outlet’s Weibo account later apologized for its attack on the dissident.

China has not condemned Russia’s announced recognition of two Russian-controlled enclaves in eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying appeared to be following a similar propaganda script to the one disclosed by Horizon News. Ms. Hua blamed the United States for the crisis and avoided criticism of Moscow.

“Lately the U.S. has been sending weapons to Ukraine, heightening tensions, creating panic and even hyping up the possibility of warfare,” she told reporters.

“A key question here is what role the U.S., the culprit of current tensions surrounding Ukraine, has played,” Ms. Hua said. “If someone keeps pouring oil on the flame while accusing others of not doing their best to put out the fire, such kind of behavior is clearly irresponsible and immoral.”

The spokeswoman also repeated the official CCP view that Russia’s “legitimate security concerns should be taken seriously and accommodated.”

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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