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Minitrue: Avoid Content on U.S. Election Results

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. 

Baidu internal notice: The general election in the United States has been determined to be a highly sensitive topic. Thoroughly audit and withhold all reports, commentary, or analysis centering on the election, [allow only content] from 411 media*. Please avoid related content from unqualified authors. Thank you for understanding, we expect [normal coverage] to resume after the election results [are official]. (November 7, 2020) [Chinese]

*CDT Chinese editors believe that the directive’s use of “411 media” (411媒体) is a reference to the six main official media outlets. This post will be updated to correct or confirm that as we are able to verify.

Ahead of the U.S. presidential election last week between incumbent Donald Trump and Joe Biden, censors ordered all Chinese media on November 3 to follow official coverage, and not to republish foreign media reports or commentary. As the world awaited final election results during a widely anticipated delay, the Chinese government and state media maintained a unified silence on the situation. After most major U.S. media declared Biden the winner over the weekend—and Trump refused to concede and alleged foul play—officials in Beijing have remained tight-lipped. In a November 9 press briefing, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We understand that the outcome of the general election will be determined in accordance with the laws and procedures of the United States. We will handle the issue of the statement (of congratulations) in accordance with international practice.” As of the time of this post, China was one of very few countries that hadn’t yet officially congratulated the U.S. president-elect. On November 8, Reuters quoted explanations of the lack of acknowledgment, and provided context on the diplomatic significance of the contested election results:

In 2016, Xi sent congratulations to Trump on Nov. 9, a day after the election.

Relations between China and the United States are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong and the coronavirus, and the Trump administration has unleashed a barrage of sanctions against Beijing.

[…] Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, said in a tweet: “China hasn’t congratulated Biden on his victory as quickly as Western countries did.”

“I think it’s because China needs to keep larger distance from the US presidential election to avoid getting entangled in its controversy. This actually shows that China respects the US as a whole,” he added.

[…] While acknowledging that Washington was unlikely to ease pressure on China over issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Global Times said Beijing should work to communicate with Biden’s team. [Source]

Other state media have also reacted with cautious optimism since Biden’s declaration of victory, and also highlighted division and threats of social chaos. The New York Times’ Vivian Wang reports:

“The outcome could usher in a ‘buffering period’ for already-tense China-U.S. relations, and offer an opportunity for breakthroughs in resuming high-level communication and rebuilding mutual strategic trust,” Global Times, a fiercely nationalistic tabloid, wrote in an article, citing Chinese experts.

[…] After Mr. Biden won Pennsylvania, and thus the presidency, CCTV, the state broadcaster, aired videos of large crowds in Philadelphia on Saturday evening and a heavy police presence. An anchor declared that there had been “not only verbal attacks but also even physical clashes” between Trump and Biden supporters. (In reality, there were few reports of violent confrontations.)

[…] The outlets had been emphasizing the potential for political violence all week as the vote counts trickled in. Since Election Day, the Chinese state media had shared photos of boarded-up businesses and police officers on watch at poll sites. [Source]

Business Insider noted over the weekend that the official Twitter account for the People’s Daily replied “HaHa🤣” to a fact-checked Trump tweet declaring that he “WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!” (People’s Daily’s tweet has since been deleted.) More recent English coverage has cited political advisors in Beijing who suggest that Xi is likely to seek to renegotiate the trade deal made with the Trump administration earlier this year, and have also begun to speculate on Biden’s approach to China.

Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.

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