Chinese internet chiefs toe party line

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing

Published: June 10 2011

Charles Chao has every right to be worried. With fears of a bubble hammering Chinese internet stocks, Sina Corp, his internet portal and microblog company, has lost more than a quarter of its market capitalisation in only five days. But that was not Mr Chao’s biggest concern this week. Along with other Chinese internet company executives, he had publicly to pay homage to the Communist party. EDITOR’S CHOICE China trade surplus hits $13bn in May – Jun-10 Interactive: China’s foreign trade – Jan-17 China’s SMEs face severe cash crunch – Jun-09 China to develop N Korea trade zones – Jun-09 China’s copper imports disappoint in May – Jun-10 Rachman: When China becomes No 1 – Jun-06 The party is flooding the country with a “red” propaganda campaign in advance of its 90th anniversary next month. This is intended to rally support, reassert its monopoly on power and plaster over signs of internal splits and power struggles. As part of the campaign, 60 senior executives from leading internet companies gathered last Wednesday at the site of the party’s first congress in Shanghai in 1921. There, the Silicon Valley returnees who run China’s online companies waved red flags, praised the party, listened to a lecture on its history and sang a song with the words: “The five-star flag is fluttering in the wind, how loud are the victory songs, singing to our beloved motherland, from today we march towards prosperity and power.” Although bowing to the party is part of the internet executives’ everyday business, that is normally done in private. Beijing censors the internet and demands that privately owned companies such as Sina and Baidu, the search engine, help it with that task. Search engines, portals and social media companies employ hundreds of staff to monitor, filter and erase content every day. Robin Li, Baidu’s chairman, has previously complained that he would prefer not to have this problem. But this week he had to make a speech on behalf of the group which was broadcast on state television. Mr Li did the best he could, praising the Shanghai party venue as “a red beginning, an eternal memorial”. “Walking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the source of strength that will help the Chinese internet to continue its healthy and rapid development,” said Mr Li. Some executives were visibly uncomfortable when they posed for the cameras, and their instinct was proved right by the widespread mockery in China’s blogosphere. “The main ‘Chinese characteristic’ is bootlicking,” said one comment on Sina’s microblog. But some were creative in dealing with the challenge. Zhou Hongyi, chief executive of Qihoo, the internet security company whose US IPO earlier this year made him a billionaire, compared the Communist party to a successful business. “When our business fails today, at worst we will lose some money. But the Communist party [members] back then put their lives at risk,” he said. “[The then ruling nationalist party] Kuomintang was the equivalent of a monopolist in the market, and the Communist party challenged its monopoly – many of its strategies can serve as an inspiration.”

 

Extracted from The Financial Times Limited 2011.

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