How China Censors Critics of the Economy

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China’s top intelligence agency issued an ominous warning last month about an emerging threat to the country’s national security: Chinese people who criticize the economy.

In a series of posts on its official WeChat account, the Ministry of State Security implored citizens to grasp President Xi Jinping’s economic vision and not be swayed by those who sought to “denigrate China’s economy” through “false narratives.” To combat this risk, the ministry said, security agencies will focus on “strengthening economic propaganda and public opinion guidance.”

China is intensifying its crackdown while struggling to reclaim the dynamism and rapid economic growth of the past. Beijing has censored and tried to intimidate renowned economists, financial analysts, investment banks and social media influencers for bearish assessments of the economy and the government’s policies. In addition, news articles about people experiencing financial struggles or the poor living standards for migrant workers are being removed.

China has continued to offer a rosy outlook for the economy, noting that it beat its forecast for economic growth of 5 percent last year without resorting to risky, expensive stimulus measures. Beyond the numbers, however, its financial industry is struggling to contain enormous amounts of local government debt, its stock market is reeling and its property sector is in crisis. China Evergrande, the high-flying developer felled by over $300 billion in debt, was ordered into liquidation on Monday.

The new information campaign is wider in scope than the usual work of the government’s censors, who have always closely monitored online chatter about the economy. Their efforts now extend to mainstream economic commentary that was permitted in the past. The involvement of security agencies also underscores the ways in which business and economic interests fall under Mr. Xi’s increasingly expansive view of what constitutes a threat to national security.

In November, the state security ministry, calling itself “staunch guardians of financial security,” said other countries used finance as a weapon in geopolitical games.

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