Censorship Watch: China and the Panama Papers

Only days after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the explosive Panama Papers tax-evasion scandal to the world, China’s government officials and web are already in full denial.

Government-owned tabloid The Global Times has already posited a “[p]owerful force is behind Panama Papers,” (likely the often-repeated “hostile Western forces”):

In the Internet era, disinformation poses no major risks to Western influential elites or the West. In the long-run, it will become a new means for the ideology-allied Western nations to strike a blow to non-Western political elites and key organizations.

Despite the link between Chinese leadership, elite and their families as described in the leaked data from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman still denies any of the consortium’s findings:

 When asked if the government would investigate tax affairs of those mentioned in the Panama Papers, [spokesman Hong Le] told reporters at a daily news briefing the ministry would not comment on “these groundless accusations”.

As such, reports of the Panama Papers are quickly disappearing from microblogging sites, new sites and general searches.

When searching for the Panama Papers (巴拿马文件) on Baidu, China’s largest search engine, no results are returned. The results show as “Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations and policies have not been displayed. I recommend trying other related terms.” Any searches relating to the Panama Papers and Xi Jinping, Li Xialoin or Deng Jiagui also return null results.

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The blocked results on Baidu.


A leaked document from the Chinese propaganda office gives messaging to news outlets to scrub articles and content related to the Panama Papers:

X Province Internet Information Office: Find and delete reprinted reports on the Panama Papers. Do not follow up on related content, no exceptions. If material from foreign media attacking China is found on any website, it will be dealt with severely. This directive was delivered orally to on-duty editors. Please act immediately. (April 4, 2016)

X Website: Please withdraw the article “Panama Papers Leaked, Putin in USD 200 Million Money Laundering Scandal” and related stories from the dual homepages [site-wide and news] (including [social media] clients), and move articles to the backend of the site. (April 4, 2016)

Greatfire.org is reporting that the ICIJ site has also been blocked by the Great Firewall, preventing domestic Chinese access to the papers’ findings.

Technical results from GreatFire.org on the Panama Papers site.
Technical results from GreatFire.org on the Panama Papers site.

At this point, it’s safe to say that the Chinese government has control over the message within the country and will not waver in its perspective on the Panama Papers. Given that this leak is considered the biggest in history, more information may come to light that can implicate more global and business leaders.

What are your thoughts on this change? Are you surprised? Comment below!

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