On China’s Internet, Only Plaaudits for the Party and Xi

BEIJING (Reuters) – While financial markets judged the outcome of China’s Communist Party Congress harshly on Monday, on China’s internet the only permitted response has been full-throated support.

President Xi Jinping secured a previous-breaking third leadership term at the Congress that wound up on Sunday, introducing a new Politburo Standing Committee stacked with loyalists and triggering a sharp slump in mainland and Hong Kong stocks as investors sold on fears that economic growth would be sacrificed for policies driven by ideology.

But no such reaction was visible on China’s internet, which was already heavily policed ​​and saw a tightening up of censorship before and during the Congress, analysts said.

Users of the WeChat and Weibo social media platforms were barred from commenting on many of the proceedings and only allowed to see select comments, invariably in praise of the party.

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Some social media users voiced criticism in opaquely written posts. Some posted a third “I disagree” shortly after Xi on Sunday unveiled the new Politburo Standing Committee.

Such posts were deleted within minutes.

Manya Koetse, editor-in-chief of the What’s on Weibo website that reports on social trends in China, said the periods surrounding big political events always see heavy censorship and tighter control of social media.

“What I saw, especially after or during the closing sessions, censorship seemed to be even tighter,” she said.

The Weibo account of Hu Xijin, a former editor of the state-run Global Times and an avid commentator whose articles usually support government positions and draw thousands of comments, is a rare online venue where differing views can be seen.

But over the weekend, however, it appeared authorities were taking no chances.

The comments sections on three of his five congress-related posts were disabled and on the remaining two, only a smattering of comments could be seen.

“Congratulations to the motherland,” said one.

“It’s all for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people”, said another.

State and party groups across China, meanwhile, promoted the Congress energetically in their online postings, highlighting praise for Xi and the outcome of the party’s deliberations.

Hashtags for state media congress coverage dominated the top of Weibo’s viral topics list.

One rare online venue where opposition could be seen was on the Weibo account of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan city doctor who died in 2020 after sounding the alarm on COVID-19 and whose last Weibo post has been an online haven for many looking to vent about personal women and public policies.

Several comments posted there on Sunday alluded to a change of season, such as “winter is coming”, before being deleted.

“An absurd age,” said another.

References to the outcome of the Congress trickled out on the page late into the night, though none referred explicitly to Xi.

“Dr Li, for the first time I have felt that this country is not going to be fine, feel really lost,” one commenter wrote.

“Why is he like this?” asked another.

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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