China Censors U.S. Ambassador Huntsman’s Name on Twitter Clones

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U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

It’s well known that Googling (or, better yet, Baidu-ing) so called “sensitive” terms in China will return no results. Or pages that will not open. Because of last Sunday’s stunt in Beijing, Jon Huntsman, ambassador to China (and likely presidential candidate in 2012) became one such “sensitive” terms.

A quick summary: Huntsman was spotted looking around on the outskirts of protests organized by Chinese activists, until a Chinese with a video camera recognized him. They quickly exchanged a few words — Huntsman, besides being a a respected diplomat, is a Mandarin speaker — and then he walked away. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing told the Wall Street Journal that Mr Huntsman presence was “purely coincidental.” He was strolling around with his family, when he noticed something going on and he decided to stop.

(More on See pictures of China stamping out pro-democracy protests)

The presence of what appear to be his security detail, for a man known to be biking around Beijing on his own, doesn’t give much credibility to this explanation. However, allegations by some Chinese nationalist websites that Huntsman was there to incite and even organize the protests hold even less water. A more likely explanation, according to many pundits, is: it’s a hat tip to his electoral base, were he to decide to eventually run for office next year.

Be that as it may, his name became taboo on two of the most popular Chinese Twitter knock offs, Sina Weibo and QQ Weibo. Reportedly, looking for Mr Huntsman name in Chinese, “洪博培”, on both weibos (which means “microblog”) returns no results, according to Shanghaiist. Doing so on Baidu, China’s leading search engine, seems to show normal results.

(More on See China’s nuanced approach to censorship)

The Chinese government, already on the alert for anti-government protests (and spreading cat videos) on the Internet across North Africa and the Middle East, keeps a very tight watch on social networks. They are seen as vehicles of instability and for this reason almost all foreign ones are blocked by the infamous internet censorship system, a.k.a. the Great Firewall. Chinese versions of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are carefully cleansed of content deemed “sensitive.” Lists of such terms are considered state secrets, but they are regularly leaked to activist websites.