President Trump commented that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his reelection bid in November. As expected, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) denied it. The spokesperson of its foreign ministry replied that “we have said many times that the US election is an internal matter for the United States, and China is not interested in intervening.” However, as Secretary Pompeo pointed out, regarding the CCP, we must “act not on the basis of what Chinese leaders say, but how they behave.”Recently I stumbled upon something that may help us prove that, indeed, they are not only interested in the U.S. election, but also interfere with it.
A few days ago, a friend shared a couple of screenshots of a Chinese search engine searching results about the two candidates of American election: one is “Support Trump,” and the other “Support Biden.” The photos show that for “Support Trump,” the search result is “Sorry, no related results were found,” and for Biden, it showed a list of the results that were found. In other words, “Support Trump” was banned and “Support Biden” was not.
Screenshots 1 and 2, Search results for “Support Trump” (top) and “Support Biden” (bottom) by author’s friend, circa August 30, 2020
I found this very interesting. The search engine is Weibo.cn owned by Sina.com, one of the largest online portals in China, and, of course, it is closely regulated by the CCP. So, the discriminatory treatment between Trump and Biden is a clear evidence of bias by Sina.com. While we know that Sina.com, as a commercial media, has no incentive to ban postings because doing so hurts its revenue. Thus, such a policy can only come from the CCP, either through explicit decree or an informal phone call from the Department of Propaganda.
To verify these two screenshots, I visited Weibo.cn and searched for these two phrases. For “Support Trump,” yes, I found the same “no related results were found,” zero, nothing. As for “Support Biden,” I found something different from what my friend found earlier. My search result was, “According to relevant laws, regulations, and polices, the search results are not shown here.”
Screenshots 3 and 4, Search results for “Support Trump” (top) and “Support Biden” (bottom) by author, August 30, 2020
This is even more intriguing! Moments ago, “Support Biden” was permitted, but now the results of such a search, while not zero or nothing, cannot be shown. This is still different from the search result for “Support Trump,” which is a resounding null, nothing! What had happened between the searches by my friend and me? As I can only guess, I think the CCP, through digital surveillance, had quickly found people like my friend discovered the different treatments between Trump and Biden, and thus was concerned that the U.S. might use this as evidence that the CCP interferes with American election, so it ordered Sina.com to hide the search results for “Support Biden,” for the time being, anyway. But even for being banned, the treatment in each case is different: it is harsher on Trump (none) than on Biden (have results, but cannot be shown now).
What can we learn from this online fieldtrip? First, it adds to the mounting evidence that the CCP suppresses the free expression of opinion. Second, the different treatments between Trump and Biden provide evidence that the CCP is interested in and interferes with U.S. election, and third, the spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry lied, again.
Shaomin Li is Eminent Scholar and Professor of International Business at Old Dominion University.