Nervous about unrest, Chinese authorities block Web site, search terms

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 26, 2011

BEIJING - Chinese authorities continued to tighten controls on Internet use Friday in the face of calls for "jasmine rallies" to emulate the anti-government protests convulsing the Middle East and North Africa.

The professional networking site LinkedIn was blocked in China, joining sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that were inaccessible because of government controls. LinkedIn was apparently blocked after a user began a discussion group called "Jasmine Voice." The user asked people to comment on the possibility of a "jasmine revolution" in China.

"I think it's pretty clearly connected to the number of postings about the jasmine stuff," said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of a popular Chinese media blog and an expert on the Internet here.

Also Friday, the Chinese name of U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. joined the list of terms blocked from searches on popular Chinese micro-blogging sites, along with previously banned words including "Tunisia," "Egypt" and "jasmine." A search for Huntsman's Chinese name on the sites turned up only a notice that the results could not be returned because of "relevant regulations and policy."

Huntsman angered Chinese nationalists here after briefly appearing last Sunday in Wangfujing, a commercial pedestrian area in central Beijing. Organizers of the jasmine rallies, whose identities are unknown but who seem to be affiliated with an overseas organization, had asked Chinese to silently pass through the area as a peaceful form of protest against government authoritarianism. Few protesters actually showed up, however, perhaps because of a massive police presence.

The U.S. Embassy said Huntsman's appearance at the site was "purely coincidental" because he was in the area with his family on a Sunday outing.

This week in Wangfujing, workers put up a blue construction fence in front of a McDonald's restaurant where the rally organizers had asked protesters to walk by, significantly narrowing the space.

Since the uprising in Tunisia in January, preceding the wave of regional unrest, Chinese authorities have been on guard against any attempt at protests here.

Friday's edition of the Global Times - a tabloid newspaper owned by the Communist Party's official organ, the People's Daily - ran a lead editorial titled "Turmoil in China is wishful thinking." The editorial blames "a few Western media outlets" for trying to promote unrest.

In another sign of the unease, several Western media bureau chiefs were called into Beijing police headquarters Friday and warned to be mindful of the State Council's rules governing foreign reporters conducting interviews in China.

Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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