Blinken's China Speech Sparks 25,000-Word Rebuttal, Media Censoring

Secretary of State Antony Blinken's speech about the Biden administration's approach to China has been the subject of widespread censorship inside the country, the top U.S. envoy in Beijing said on Monday.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns appealed for the Chinese public to be allowed to watch or read Blinken's May 26 address, which included praise for the Chinese people even as it criticized the government and its increasingly assertive ruling party.

"China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it," Blinken said in his remarks at the George Washington University. Under the leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had become "more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad," he said.

Blinken said the United States doesn't seek to "block China from its role as a major power," or from achieving economic advancement.

"But we will defend and strengthen the international law, agreements, principles and institutions that maintain peace and security, protect the rights of individuals and sovereign nations, and make it possible for all countries—including the United States and China—to coexist and cooperate," he said.

China Censors Antony Blinken Policy Speech
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on China at the Jack Morton Auditorium of the George Washington University on May 26, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Blinken speech has been the subject of widespread censorship inside China. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beijing's response came in the form of a 25,645-word rebuttal published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on June 19. The long reply—more than three times the length of Blinken's speech—remains available for China's public to view, while the secretary of state's remarks have been scrubbed from the country's main social media services Weibo and WeChat.

"Since the Chinese Foreign Ministry has given such a lengthy response to @SecBlinken's speech, then it's time for Chinese government censors to let the Chinese public see Secretary Blinken's speech on Weibo and WeChat, where it's being deleted every time we upload it," Burns said in a tweet in Chinese.

He was quote-tweeting Qin Gang, China's ambassador to Washington, who had shared the Foreign Ministry's statement including arguments against what it said were 21 "falsehoods" in Blinken's address.

Beijing's extensive response accused the secretary of state of using "carefully calibrated language" to promote the narrative of China as a threat, "all in an attempt at full-blown containment and suppression of China."

The U.S. is attempting to "drive wedges" between the CCP and the Chinese people, it said. The long reply also pushes back against accusations of gross human rights abuses in the country, describing charges of genocide in Xinjiang as the "lie of the century."

"China is the top victim of disinformation, while the U.S. is the biggest source of spreading disinformation," the Chinese government declared.

Burns followed up his first tweet with another in English: "Since China's [Foreign Ministry] published this lengthy response to @SecBlinken's speech, it's a good time for [People's Republic of China] censors to let the Chinese public view Secretary Blinken's speech on Weibo & WeChat, where it's been pulled down each time we posted it."

The U.S. Embassy in China has published Blinken's speech on its website, which is viewable inside the country but naturally generates less visitor traffic than WeChat and especially Weibo, which last year boasted more than 570 million active monthly users.

This one-sided flow of information is a key feature of the Chinese government's domestic control. It's an effective means of image crafting for the CCP as it seeks to shape narratives in its favor.

The downside, however, is the potential to undermine credible external messaging, which can lead to mistrust among foreign publics. This is especially the case with Beijing's public diplomacy on Twitter, where Chinese officials may find it hard to make convincing arguments that the Chinese public can't see because of the website's ban in China.

Blinken referenced this asymmetry in his May address.

"For too long, Chinese companies have enjoyed far greater access to our markets than our companies have in China. For example, Americans who want to read the China Daily or communicate via WeChat are free to do so, but The New York Times and Twitter are prohibited for the Chinese people, except those working for the government who use these platforms to spread propaganda and disinformation," he said.

"This lack of reciprocity is unacceptable, and it's unsustainable," he said.