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Mao Yushi, 88, is renowned for his sharp commentary on China’s economy and society. Photo: Handout

Beijing internet censors close websites of liberal economic think tank

Unirule Institute of Economics was founded by Mao Yushi, a veteran economist and critic of his namesake Mao Zedong

Two websites run by a liberal Chinese think tank have been shut down as censorship tightens ahead of the Communist Party’s national congress this year.

The Beijing municipal cyberspace administration said on Friday that the websites of the Unirule Institute of Economics and 15 other online outlets had been shut down “based on regular supervision and investigation upon public tip-offs”.

The shutdowns came after internet watchdogs vowed this month to make “absolute loyalty to the party” the top priority this year to “create a good internet consensus environment” for the 19th party congress this autumn.

The Unirule sites’ closure also came two days after Mao Yushi, an outspoken economist and a founder of the non-governmental think tank, lashed out the country’s top judge for rejecting the concept of judicial independence. Mao’s January 18 post on his microblog account criticised Supreme People’s Court chief justice Zhou Qiang for telling top provincial judges to firmly resist the “erroneous” Western ideas of judicial independence and the separation of powers.

The account has since been blocked.

Mao was not available for comment yesterday.

A screen capture of the closed websites of the Unirule Institute of Economics. Photo: Handout

The cyberspace administration said the websites were closed down because of various serious violations, including providing internet information services without proper licences, displaying pornography and publishing unverified information to solicit contributions.

To try to legitimise its suppression of the free flow of information and free speech, Beijing has been an advocate of “cyber sovereignty”, the idea that governments have the right to regulate the internet as they wish.

Beijing has built the “Great Firewall of China” to stop the free flow of information across its borders and conditions are only expected to worsen this year ahead of a major transition of power at the party congress.

Unirule’s website was last taken offline in April 2012 for more than a month after the government also suspended the neo-Maoist website Utopia.

Unirule was founded by a group of economists in July 1993 and its research areas include economics, governance and policy. Some of its members have advised Beijing on economic policy.

Mao Yushi is known for his sharp commentary on the economy and society.

In 2011, Cai­ published an article of his criticising late leader Mao Zedong. The article was removed quickly but triggered a wave of attacks on the economist by Maoist leftists.

He was bombarded with insults and even death threats, and derided by leftists as a traitor.

The economist was awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2012 by the conservative Washington-based think tank, the Cato Institute.

He was attacked by Global Times, a tabloid run by People’s Dail y, for his criticism of mainstream political thought in 2013.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: watchdog pulls plug on liberal websites