Beijing party boss promises to eradicate online political rumours ahead of key Communist congress

Capital chief’s comments suggest tighter online controls will be imposed ahead of key gathering of Chinese leadership

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 3:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 10:54am

The party chief of Beijing has promised to eradicate online political rumours ahead of the Communist Party congress next month, suggesting tighter internet controls will be imposed in the run-up to the party’s five-yearly leadership transition.

Domestic media coverage in recent months has been dominated by officially sanctioned propaganda on the key political meeting, but due to the opaque structures of the party it remains unclear what form the major leadership reshuffle will take.

Speaking at a preparation meeting on Tuesday, Beijing’s party secretary Cai Qi called on local officials to ensure security and stability in the capital, where the party congress will open on October 18.

“We need to strengthen social controls, eliminating all kinds of unstable elements,” the official Beijing Daily quoted him as saying.

“We need to strengthen cyber security defence, firmly cracking down on various political rumours and harmful information.”

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The congress, where President Xi Jinping is expected to be named the party’s General Secretary for a second term, will see over a dozen key officials reshuffled.

Although China watchers worldwide have been discussing the possible outcomes, such conversations can hardly be heard in the tightly censored mainland media.

In recent months, Chinese authorities have stepped up information controls byclamping down on individuals’ use of virtual private networks (VPN) – the tools used by mainland people to circumvent the censors’ Great Firewall and access overseas websites.

The government also recently imposed fines on the country’s biggest social media platforms for failing to remove information that it said harmed national security and social order.

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Services from foreign social media tools such as WhatsApp have also been disrupted.

Almost all the coverage of the congress available in China now comes from the party’s propaganda apparatus, which has produced documentaries eulogising Xi’s achievements and published books on his governance theories.

In Beijing, Cai has demanded that local news media publish columns dedicated to party congress propaganda.

“Carefully studying, widely propagating and fully implementing the spirit of the party’s 19th National Congress ... are our top political tasks in the coming period,” Cai told other city officials on Tuesday.

“[We need to] unify the thoughts and actions of all Beijing people into the spirit of the meeting.”

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The approaching party congress has also seen stability campaigns launched across the country to make sure no social unrest will disturb Xi’s show of power in three weeks’ time.

Petitioners who file complaints against the government, often by travelling to Beijing, have been put under close watch.

In the southern city of Haikou, for example, security authorities were told on Tuesday to prevent group petitions and stop aggrieved citizens from going to the capital to make their cases.

And in Xiafan town in Jiangxi province, officials have been conducting a thorough check on petitioners, pledging strict measures to keep them at home, according to local media.