Adding to the the list of foreign news outlets that have fallen victim to China’s censors is Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. According to a report by the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, the Chinese social media accounts linked to the paper were suddenly deleted by online censors, as tensions between the two Asian economic powers continue to fester over a territorial dispute.
Prior to Wednesday’s new censorship of the paper, Asahi Shimbun had a significant following on China’s most popular social media platform, the Twitter-like Weibo. With more than 1.3 million users following the Asahi account, China Newsweek reported that posts were shared an average of 191 times each, which is significant, especially since it is a Japanese news source. Asahi became one of the more popular news resources among the Chinese because it had a reputation of being censor-savvy, being able to outsmart restrictions by using wordplay and code names for more sensitive issues. This earned the publication the nickname of “Asahi-kun,” which translates to Master Asahi, among many users online.
While the triggering offense for the crackdown is unclear, some speculation has arisen, attributing the censorship to the deteriorating relationship between Japan and China. Aggressive rhetoric has come from both sides regarding the territorial claims on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The newspaper has since released a statement saying it has not received an answer as to why all its Chinese social media accounts had been deleted, despite requesting an explanation. The company's statement also expressed hope that the accounts would be restored eventually. As of Thursday, the Chinese-language affiliate site for the newspaper was also inaccessible in China.
Many Chinese netizens have reacted in anger, pleading to the censors to get the news site back up. “Give me back Asahi-kun!” thousands of bloggers wrote. Some bloggers even posted icons of a candle, which are usually used to express loss or somber commemoration, over the disappearance of the various accounts and the website.
Others expressed less sorrow, and more anger, to the censors. “This is closing the eyes of the Chinese. You can’t keep shutting down our communication,” one blogger said, referring to the various other foreign news sites that have been blocked. “If we don’t know the other opinions out there, we will be stupid by comparison.”