U.S. consulate's Weibo account is suspended

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am


An official microblog of the US consulate in Shanghai that was a favourite among mainland internet users for its chatty tone was abruptly taken offline yesterday in the midst of ongoing Sino-US tensions. .

From yesterday morning, visitors found they could no longer access the consulate's account on Sina Weibo, the mainland's biggest Twitter-like social-networking service. Users were instead redirected to a page saying that the account 'cannot be accessed temporarily'.

At the same time, searches for 'US consulate' and 'US general consulate in Shanghai' returned only a message that said, 'according to relevant regulations and policies, search results cannot be displayed', a standard response to banned terms.

'This morning we discovered the consulate Shanghai's official Sina Weibo page was not accessible,' embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said. 'We are working to find out why and we plan to resume normal operations as soon as possible.' As of yesterday, other such US government accounts, as well as the Shanghai consulate's account on the Tencent microblogging site, were still active.

The episode comes amid a period of particular tension between Beijing and Washington, with wrangles over trade policies, human rights and geopolitics in East Asia.

The account's suspension sent social media abuzz, as the consulate's Sina Weibo feed, like that of its counterpart in Hong Kong, was known for a clever and light-heated tone that lent it popularity.

A recent story by the Nanfang People's Weekly described the weibo accounts of the US consulates in Shanghai and Hong Kong as 'two the best-known official weibo accounts by foreign bodies that you cannot miss'.

The Hong Kong consulate responded to a People's Daily commentary last year slamming the US over its Human Rights Report, by writing: ''Developing democracy and guaranteeing human rights have always been the goals and values of Chinese Communist Party members'. (Huh! All this bickering and our goals are also democracy and human rights. There's no conflict!)'

Hours later, the Shanghai consulate forwarded the message, saying, 'Yeah, one world, one dream!'

Internet users speculated that the microblog's popularity alone might have been enough to raise the eyebrows of authorities.

'The cute way of talking it uses has attracted more and more young internet users,' said Jason Ng, a Beijing-based blogger. 'The more followers it has, the louder voice it has, which might be a concern to the government.'

In keeping with their usual tone, the Hong Kong consulate responded to the suspension yesterday by posting a video of a song from Visitors on the Icy Mountain, a 1963 film about local people fighting against spies in the border areas of Xinjiang .

The lyric goes: 'When I am bidding farewell to my comrade-in-arms, it's like the snow slides rolling for tens of thousand of miles.'

Additional reporting by Wang Xiaonan