U.S. envoy's name blocked in latest run-in with China

BEIJING Fri Feb 25, 2011 8:45am EST

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman speaks to journalists in front of the Beijing High People's Court after an appeal of Xue Feng in Beijing, February 18, 2011. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman speaks to journalists in front of the Beijing High People's Court after an appeal of Xue Feng in Beijing, February 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has blocked a microblog search of the Chinese name of the U.S. ambassador after he was seen near a pro-democracy gathering, the latest in a series of run-ins between a possible U.S. presidential candidate and the Communist Party.

China has tightened control over the Internet in the wake of the unrest sweeping through the Middle East, underscoring the party's anxiety over the easy spread of information that might challenge its one-party rule.

The online censorship coincides with a rash of detentions after an overseas Chinese-language website, Boxun, spread a call for "Jasmine Revolution" gatherings to press the Communist Party to make way for democratic change.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker tipped as a Republican U.S. presidential candidate, was spotted in a crowd at a pro-democracy gathering outside a McDonald's on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday.

U.S. officials later said he accidentally came across the gathering while out shopping.

A video posted on YouTube showed him talking to an unidentified person on the street, a block away from Tiananmen Square, the center of pro-democracy demonstrations which were crushed by the military in June 1989.

Besides Huntsman's Chinese name, "Hong Bopei," searches for the Chinese translations of "Egypt," "jasmine," "jasmine revolution" and "Hillary Clinton" prompted a message saying the results could not be found on the microblogs of Chinese Internet portal Sina.com.

Authorities are particularly worried that people who use online microblogs -- 125 million and growing -- could use them to mobilize.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said the embassy was aware that "some Chinese domestic Internet sites" were restricting searches of Huntsman's Chinese name.

"We urge China to respect internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, and the human rights of all Chinese citizens," Buangan said.

Last week, Huntsman stood outside a Chinese court and criticized it for rejecting the appeal of an American jailed on industrial spying charges.

Days earlier, Huntsman posted messages on a Twitter-like Chinese microblog service, asking readers their opinions on a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Internet freedom.

His messages were deleted by censors.

Huntsman's chances of running for the Republican presidential nomination appeared to increase early this week when a group advocating his candidacy launched a fund-raising effort.

China has launched its most severe crackdown on dissidents in recent years in response to the Jasmine protests, rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said on Friday.

Five people have been detained on charges of "endangering state security" charges, the group said.

In Taipei, Taiwanese protesters threw flowers at a motorcade carrying China's top envoy to the island and tried to deliver plastic jasmine flowers and jasmine juice to him as he visited Taiwan's strongly pro-independence south.

Search results for Huntsman and Clinton could still be found on less popular Internet chatroom Tianya.cn and another Chinese microblogging site run by Sohu.com.

The Chinese microblog feed of Huntsman on Tencent Holdings' QQ, another Chinese website, was still accessible.

Last week, China's Internet censors deleted U.S. Embassy posts promoting Clinton's speech on Internet freedom from microblogs.

It is unclear whether their removal was ordered by the government or censored by the company that hosts the microblogs, Sina.com, which cooperates with the government under Chinese law to scrub content that is deemed illegal.

Twitter itself is blocked in China, along with Facebook and other websites popular abroad.

And access to the professional networking site LinkedIn was disrupted in China beginning on Thursday, following online calls on other sites for more gatherings every weekend in China.

Chinese officials and state media, which have been muted on the unrest in Egypt, have stressed repeatedly that the idea that China could succumb to the kind of unrest rocking authoritarian governments across the Middle East is absurd.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Huang Yan in Beijing and Jonathan Standing in Taipei; Editing by Ken Wills and Nick Macfie)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (6)
lighthouse wrote:
Non story. Standard operating procedure in China. Non news.

Feb 25, 2011 12:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
burkes wrote:
China is indeed its own worst enemy. The tide of consumerism is washing people ashore and there is nothing China can do, to prevent it. The wave will be so big, that it will wash the bureaucrats and censors, out to sea. They can not stop it, only try to postpone or delay the tide of change, by erecting dykes, but they will fail. I
give China another year or two, before they succumb to this tide of consumerism
and become a democracy. It is inevitable as the tides of change sweeps across China.

Feb 25, 2011 2:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
The world is looking for the US to assume its leadership position that it has sorely compromised particularly during the Bush years.

Succinctly put, walk the talk. What is this freedom of speech lecturing all about when the US prevents Al Jazeera News from being aired in the US. Here is a much more credible news network than Fox News and they “cleverly” censor it through various excuses. The world at large is not ignorant. They see and this does not put the US in a good light at all.

Stop shooting yourself in the foot. For your own citizens sake.

These sort of little jabs at China is counter-productive. It has not worked for all these years. Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Brilliant! Isn’t it time to consider a different approach. Perhaps a closed door approach, for example.

Feb 26, 2011 6:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.