John Bolton’s book: China loves to embarrass Donald Trump, but not the parts about Xi Jinping

This has also been true in China, where the state media has been happy to show many details of Bolton’s exposition. However, not all parts of “The Room Where It Happened” are considered as tasty behind the Great Firewall.
When it comes to Bolton’s accusations that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for help for reelection and expressed his approval for mass detention camps in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, the Chinese media has remained on silence. The country’s diplomats have been similarly silent, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian only commented that China “had no intention” to interfere in the US election and that the Trump administration “clearly understands” Beijing’s position in Xinjiang.
Those statements were made at a press conference on June 18, in response to a CNN question, but they are notably missing in an official transcript of the event published by the Foreign Ministry. MOFA transcripts often omit questions on sensitive issues.
The only coverage of Bolton’s allegations about Xinjiang and election interference in the mainstream Chinese media appeared in the Global Times in English, a state-backed nationalist tabloid aimed at a foreign audience. The newspaper accused Bolton of being “an uncompromising anti-China” seeking to “discredit” Beijing and “further muddy the waters of US domestic politics.”

Online censorship

The limits of Bolton’s revelations in China go beyond not covering the matter: there is evidence that the book was censored on two of the largest Internet platforms in China.

Users of Weibo, a service similar to Twitter, complained that they were unable to comment on the book or share passages from it, while on WeChat, China’s largest messaging app, posts about Bolton appeared to be hidden or removed. CNN was able to upload a screenshot of the book’s cover to WeChat, but no contact was able to see the resulting post.

It is unclear exactly what triggers the censorship, as some posts about the book are allowed, including reports in the Chinese media.

Yan Duan, a Beijing office worker, said she was blocked from her WeChat account after sharing a PDF of the book in a group message. You received the notification: “As this WeChat account is suspected of spreading false information, the current login is disabled.”

“A friend of mine expressed interest in the book, so I thought I could send the file directly,” she said, after receiving it from another WeChat contact. “There appears to be a censorship window. The file was shareable before. But afterward, I heard many incidents where the messages were hidden or the sender was banned like me.”

Representatives for Sina and Tencent, which operate Weibo and WeChat respectively, did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Ask the USA’

The Great Firewall, and Chinese censorship in general, is a black box, and the exact purpose of any particular block can be difficult to determine, be it the work of individual censors or a top-down command to control coverage.

This is especially the case in a topic where some discussion is allowed, but certain elements are off limits.

According to Tetsushi Takahashi, head of the China office of the Nikkei newspaper, a report on Japanese public broadcaster NHK about Bolton was blocked in China. Foreign television channels, including CNN, are often censored in this way.

“I thought the book, published Tuesday, worked in China’s favor. After all, Bolton describes Trump as unfit for the presidency,” Takahashi wrote this week. “The power was cut off when Trump was shown at the summit between the United States and China in June 2019, when he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy more American agricultural products. There is something Xi might want to hide: according to Bolton, the leader The Chinese said he wanted to work with Trump for another six years, assuming he would be reelected. But Xi’s second term as president expires in March 2023. “Another six years” meant Xi already had an extension. ”
It seems clear that China would prefer that the discussion remain focused on Trump, not Beijing. In the only answer to a question about Bolton that the Foreign Ministry has posted online, spokesman Zhao said: “You may have to ask the American side what is mentioned in the book.”