China’s Communist Party Congress and Internet Censorship

October 13, 2017, 7:00 am

China’s top officials with gather in Beijing 18 – 31 October for the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  New members of the country’s most important decision-making body—the Politburo Standing Committee—will be announced, including a possible candidate to replace party leader Xi Jinping in 2022 (At the last gathering in November 2012, Xi Jinping established himself as China’s leader).  

Prior the party congress, security agents have started one of the most severe crackdowns in decades, which has a number of activists leaving Beijing for the duration of the summit, and moderate activists have been told not to give interviews to foreign journalists. (The Guardian). During China’s National Party Congress, censorship is typically heightened.

Internet Censorship

In a directive issued summer 2017, the state-controlled association that polices China’s digital media sector set out 68 categories of material that should be censored. The new restrictions — which expanded and updated a set of prohibitions issued five years ago — reflect an ambitious effort by President Xi Jinping’s government to impose discipline and rein in the web.  (NY Times

On September 7, the Cyber Administration of China published a new set of regulations for “internet group information service management” that went into effect on October 8. The rules emphasize the responsibility of managers and service providers to enforce official content restrictions and report violators to “the relevant authorities.”  With these restrictions, there is the potential for large numbers of ordinary internet users and website owners to face targeted censorship, arrest, and criminal prosecution that sets this year’s preparations apart from past congresses. The legal, technological, and administrative tools at the CCP’s disposal in 2017 are significantly more powerful than in 2012, the year of the last leadership rotation. These tools will survive long after the event concludes. (FreedomHouse)

Travelers who use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and/or Gmail will need to seek alternative ways of communicating while in China. In late September 2017, users in mainland China reported disruptions in the popular communication app, WhatsApp. Other websites and social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other foreign media have been blocked for a number of years in China. The WhatsApp disruptions and subsequent blockage is believed to be pre-emptive ahead of the party congress. (South China Morning Post)

Also ahead of the CCP, Airbnb has removed listings in Beijing due to “external circumstances” throughout the month of October. Other short-term rentals via local services (i.e. Xiaozhu.com and Tujia.com) are unavailable during the same time period. (Straits Times)

Travel Advice

  • Allow time for important journeys around central Beijing, particularly around the Great Hall of the People.
  • While copies of residence permits and the identification and visa page of passports should be accepted in most cases, carrying original personal identification papers (always accepted) will expedite passage through security checkpoints. A card in Chinese characters, not Romanized form, is helpful.
  • Members flying to Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) should contact the airport directly or consult its website to confirm schedules before setting out due to potential for delays during the party congress.
  • Skype currently works. WeChat will not be restricted, but it is forbidden to type sensitive words.
  • Avoid sensitive topics of discussion, including human rights, democratization, Tibet, Taiwan, minority rights and religious freedom. Avoid any protests as a standard precaution. Do not take photographs of demonstrators or officials.

Contact David Ivey, Associate Director, University Export Controls Officer, in The Office of Sponsored Projects, if you have any questions regarding export control issues related to your projects or travel outside the U.S. His phone number is 512-475-7963, and e-mail address is ivey@austin.utexas.edu.

 

As always, if you are abroad and in need of immediate assistance (counseling, medical or security related) please call International SOS at 215-942-8059 or UTPD at 512-471-4441.