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China steps up censorship for Trump inauguration

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping

Beijing censors have ordered media outlets to tone down their reporting of Donald Trump's inauguration as US president, as the Communist party weighs its response to a new administration that threatens to tear up the rule book of US-China relations.

Propaganda officials have ordered the press only to use reports on the ceremony written by central state media, according to several Chinese journalists.

"It is forbidden for websites to carry out live streaming or picture reports of the inauguration," a copy of censorship instructions seen by the Financial Times said.

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Internet media outlets should not give the event top billing on their homepages, the instructions add, reminding them to "take care of news comments . . . and negative and harmful speech".

Similar orders are common ahead of big world news events but analysts said in this case they reflected uncertainty in Beijing over how to handle public perceptions of Mr Trump.

The instructions apparently also extend to foreign-facing outlets.

"Wasn't allowed to discuss Trump today on my radio show, he's now an official sensitive topic," Elyse Ribbons, an American who hosts a programme on Chinese state-run radio, said on Twitter on Thursday, adding: "Chinese leadership still trying to figure him out (sigh)".

Mr Trump has suggested abandoning the "One China" policy that has been the bedrock of US-China relations for decades, in order to use Taiwan's status as a bargaining chip in negotiations over Beijing's alleged currency manipulation and its island-building in the South China Sea.

Last week Trump's pick for secretary of state Rex Tillerson set the stage for a big diplomatic — and possibly military — clash by saying China should not be allowed to access artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea.

Beijing lodged a formal complaint with Washington after Mr Trump broke with decades of diplomatic precedent by speaking on the phone with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen. But it has taken a muted response to other remarks by Mr Trump.

China's tightly controlled media often portrays Washington as a hostile power attempting to curtail China's rise. At the same time authorities are struggling to rein in increasingly nationalist voices on the internet.

"Trump is a very different kind of president than Obama. He has a less friendly attitude . . . he's unpredictable," said Zhan Jiang, a professor of international news at Beijing Foreign Studies University. "The government is still working out how to react to him, which is why in this case they are taking very close control of the media for this event."

Early state media reports highlighted the ceremony's expense, pricing it at more than $100m. The information office of the State Council, China's cabinet, tweeted in English: "How much does #Trump's #inauguration cost? The number must be staggering".