he Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has become the latest foreign news organization to fall behind China’s Great Firewall with its website being blocked in the Middle Kingdom with notably suspicious timing.
ABC has said that both its site and apps suddenly became inaccessible in mainland China on August 22nd. When they asked for clarification, they were given the following incredible, cryptic response from China’s Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission:
China’s internet is fully open. We welcome internet enterprises from all over the world to provide good information to the netizens of China.
However, state cyber sovereignty rights shall be maintained towards some overseas websites violating China’s laws and regulations, spreading rumors, pornographic information, gambling, violent terrorism and some other illegal harmful information which will endanger state security and damage national pride.”
Authorities have failed to explain exactly which Chinese laws and regulations ABC is accused of violating. While China is certainly no stranger to blocking the websites of foreign news organizations, this appears to be the first time that an Australian outlet has been met with this fate.
In response to a question to clarify why China has blocked the ABC’s website, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying: ‘I suppose you know very well who you should contact for the answer’ – referring to China’s internet regulator pic.twitter.com/aNETOOCrYg
— Bill Birtles (@billbirtles) September 3, 2018
Curiously enough, the website of Australia’s public broadcaster was blacklisted just one day after the Australian government announced that it would be banning two major Chinese telecommunications companies, Huawei and ZTE, from participating in the country’s 5G network rollout, a decision which seriously upset Beijing.
However, in its own report on being shoved behind the Great Firewall, ABC cites official Chinese government sources as saying that it is unlikely that the censoring of its website resulted from Canberra’s move to bar Huawei and ZTE.
Instead, it’s also possible that Chinese cyberspace officials took issue with ABC running its own Chinese language news site that is hosted in Australia. The website replaced AustraliaPlus.cn, a collaboration between ABC and Chinese state media which came under fire after ABC admitted to violating its own editorial guidelines by removing key facts and content critical of China from several of its news stories on the platform. The switch happened more than a year ago.
On Twitter, Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalistic Global Times tabloid, points to ABC’s Chinese language website as the problem while implying that the Financial Times practices self-censorship on its Chinese site. Ftchinese.com was blocked last July, but has since been made accessible again to Chinese net users.
It's a bit regrettable. But Chinese language website of the Financial Times is accessible in China. ABC is suggested to consult with FT to understand the logic of doing things here. https://t.co/m7123quqgv
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) September 3, 2018
Meanwhile, Scott Morrison, Australia’s new prime minister, appears less than concerned about the situation, telling a Melbourne radio station: “The ABC is funded to broadcast in Australia, so we’re in control of that. China’s a sovereign country, they make decisions about what happens there, we make decisions about what happens here.”
Relations between China and Australia have turned frigid in recent years, a trend which Chinese officials have blamed partly on “biased” Australian media. In particular, Beijing was upset last year by an explosive investigative report from Fairfax Media and ABC about China’s attempted “infiltration” of Australian politics and society.
ABC joins a long and growing list of foreign news websites that are blocked in China. Chinese censors have been busy this summer, adding more names to the list, including SupChina, What’s on Weibo, and the BBC.