Censorship in China

Chinese leaders must back up rhetoric with action

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 7:23am

Clean government is the mantra of Beijing's new leaders and they are taking every opportunity to make their expectations known. Incoming president Xi Jinping seems to have gone a step further in his quest for transparency and openness with an account on the weibo microblogging site. While not directly attributed to him, speculation is rife that he or his propaganda team are involved through postings that portray him as willing to have every detail of his private and official life laid bare for public scrutiny. It is an appropriate gesture for an administration that has placed corruption and reform at the top of its agenda, but has little meaning unless rhetoric is followed with determined action.

Leaders elsewhere in the world have embraced social media to win the trust and support of voters. Mainland officials do not have to face an electorate, so there has been no such rush to set up accounts. They do face a growing tide of criticism about the way the country is being run, though, so turning to popular microblogging sites to send a message that they are willing and eager to listen makes good sense. The "Learning from Xi fan group" embraces that logic by regularly posting insider family pictures and detailed itineraries of in-country trips, even before the visits have been officially announced.

Such material would usually be promptly removed from normal weibo accounts by censors, which is why there is a widespread belief that this one is either being run by Xi's team or is officially sanctioned. That has unsurprisingly led to a flood of followers, top officials among them. It is to be hoped that they will take a cue from the site, opening accounts to unveil personalities, passions and principles. That would be a solid first step in bringing openness to a government that keeps an unreasonably tight lid on all it does.

Making the government accountable and curbing corruption requires resolve. If Xi is truly behind the microblog, he is moving in the right direction. But to show he means business, the next step has to be markedly more meaningful.