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Censorship concerns arise as Lianhe Zaobao’s article of Biden’s remark on Xi blocked in Hong Kong

An article published by the Singapore Chinese media outlet Lianhe Zaobao has reportedly been blocked in Hong Kong, leading to internet users in the region being unable to access it.

The article in question discusses U.S. President Joe Biden referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator,” raising concerns of possible censorship.

Readers from other regions have had no issues accessing the article, which was published on Lianhe Zaobao’s official news site on Wednesday (21 June).

However, Radio Free Asia (RFA), a U.S. government-funded news agency, reported that the same article was allegedly inaccessible in Hong Kong, displaying an error message stating, “The page you are trying to access does not exist.”

Even attempts to search for the article within Lianhe Zaobao’s real-time news section and its official website resulted in the article appearing to have been removed or made unavailable.

TOC has verified the allegation using VPN that it is the case when accessing the said article from Hong Kong.

Additionally, RFA revealed that articles mentioning the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the recent arrests of Hong Kongers commemorating it in public were also allegedly unavailable to Hong Kong readers on Lianhe Zaobao’s website, while those same articles were easily accessible from outside Hong Kong.

Other content on Zaobao, unrelated to the article, such as topics covering Xi Jinping, the Hong Kong extradition bill protests, and Jimmy Lai, remained visible and accessible in Hong Kong.

Zhou Shuguang, a network engineer and citizen journalist living in Taiwan, investigated the technical aspects of the webpage and suggested that the blockage likely occurred within the Hong Kong-based servers hosting Lianhe Zaobao’s content.

He explained that servers in different locations worldwide, including Hong Kong, Osaka (Japan), and the United States, are used to ensure faster content access for readers.

However, servers in Hong Kong are subject to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong National Security Law or the local government, which may contribute to access restrictions.

“Servers in Hong Kong are governed by the Hong Kong National Security Law, or the Hong Kong government,” Zhou said.

Zhou also considered the possibility that Lianhe Zaobao engaged in self-censorship to gain access to readers in mainland China.

RFA noted that an employee of the Lianhe Zaobao who responded to a query about the issue from RFA on Wednesday said: “We are looking into it.” However, no further response had been received by the time of writing.

When approached, an official from the Hong Kong government’s Innovation, Technology, and Industry Bureau stated that the issue does not fall within their jurisdiction.

The Zaobao article quoted report from Reuters, mentioning “Biden Calls Xi Jinping a Dictator”

The news article titled “Biden Calls Xi Jinping a Dictator,” quoted a report from Reuters stating that during a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, President Biden openly referred to Xi Jinping as a “dictator.”

According to the Reuters report, during a fundraising event in California, Biden mentioned the incident when a Chinese hot air balloon carrying spy equipment was shot down by the U.S. military.

He stated, “When I decided to shoot down that balloon full of spy equipment, Xi Jinping was very upset because he didn’t know where the balloon was… Once you lose control of a situation, it becomes very embarrassing for a dictator.”

Biden also mentioned that China is going through an economic difficulty.

Lianhe Zaobao helped to China govt to paint a positive image of its Xinjiang concentration camp in 2019

In fact, Zhou’s concerns about the possibility of Lianhe Zaobao engaging in self-censorship to gain access to readers in mainland China could be valid. Zaobao is one of the few foreign-owned Chinese-language media outlets that can be accessed online in China.

Additionally, Zaobao is the sole Chinese-language overseas newspaper available for purchase in major cities across mainland China.

Readers can verify on Lianhe Zaobao’s official website in the “contact us” section, where it is mentioned that the paper is distributed in Beijing and Shanghai.

Regarding its editorial stance on China, the paper was invited in April 2019 by the Information Office of the State Council of China to present a favorable image of the concentration camps in Xinjiang.

This invitation was extended to eight overseas media outlets, including BBC and Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao, with the intention of portraying a positive image of Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighurs.

Previous criticisms from human rights organizations and some Western media regarding the Chinese government’s suppression and surveillance of Uighurs prompted this response.

As such, the Chinese government wanted to change the world’s perspective of these “schools” and organised a media trip to show the current status of these “re-education camps”.

Although BBC took a bold move to showcase the darker side of Xinjiang and its “re-education” camps, but other invited foreign media outlets, including Lianhe Zaobao, took a less harsher route despite trying to “uncover the mystery of the Xinjiang Education and Training Centre”.

Singapore ranked second most influenced by China in the world

According to the China Index 2022 by Taiwan-based research outfit Doublethink Lab, Singapore has ranked second globally, preceded by Cambodia and followed by Thailand, in terms of China’s growing influence on countries.

The study revealed that Singapore is particularly vulnerable to Beijing’s influence in areas such as technology, society, and academia, although it is less affected in terms of domestic politics.

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