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Over the weekend, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered Sina Weibo, China’s largest social media website, to block any criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The site has well over 503 million users and hosts more than 100 million messages a day. But if any users want to criticize Putin for his administration’s continued abuses against LGBTQ citizens, they may soon find themselves unable to do so on their country’s largest social platform.
What is Sina Weibo?
Sina Weibo is a Chinese hybrid of Facebook and Twitter (in a country whose internet blocks both Facebook and Twitter). Users can post messages, share links, tag one another and use hashtags. More than 5,000 companies, 2,700 media organizations, various celebrities, governmental and social groups use Sina Weibo to share info and stay connected.
Despite its popularity, the network is heavily censored. The site is monitored, users have to write with code words when criticizing the government or mentioning incidents like civilian deaths in police custody. Moderators quietly and quickly delete any offending posts or hide posts from being seen by others.
You can see a full list of Sina Weibo’s banned words. It includes words referring to subway price increases, jailed political dissidents, corrupt politicians and police, Tibet and other topics.
Why is China censoring criticism of Vladimir Putin?
In short, China is becoming closer allies and business partners with Russia and they don’t want to disrupt that.
In 2014, Russia signed a $400 billion deal with China to build a natural gas pipeline from Western Siberia to Xinjiang, China’s largest region. At the end of June, Putin and Jinping signed over 30 business agreements signifying billions of dollars in investments and energy deals. Last Tuesday, they also released a joint statement opposing North Korea’s recent missile launches and opposing U.S. and South Korea military exercises near the North Korean border.
How will this affect LGBTQ rights in China and Russia?
China already treats its LGBTQ activists like anti-government dissidents, monitoring their communications, harassing them via police and imprisoning them indefinitely.
The Chinese government also recently banned all LGBTQ web content barely a month after they shut down an LGBTQ conference with 400 expected attendees. They’ve also recently shut down two gay mobile apps.
Russia has its own ongoing, government-led agenda against LGBTQ citizens. In addition to passing a 2013 law banning so-called “gay propaganda,” Russia has also permitted its semi-autonomous state of Chechnya to continue a violent months-long purge of LGBTQ citizens.
But banning any criticisms of Putin on Sina Weibo just means that critics will use coded language or another workaround, such as using the popular WeChat app (a tool that allows private conversations between individuals and groups) or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that allow internet users to access websites banned in China.