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China accidentally releases secret Russia-Ukraine documents online

China's President Xi Jinping, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Metzel/Tass/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 23, 2022

A Chinese state-controlled news outlet appears to have accidentally published official instructions for how Chinese media outlets are to cover Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday that the Chinese media outlet Horizon News posted the instructions on its Weibo, a Chinese alternative to Twitter. The since-deleted Weibo post stated Chinese outlets are not to make posts unfavorable to Russia or favorable to Western assessments of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The instructions also appear to have called on Chinese media outlets to slow the speed at which users can share comments reacting to their posts, so as to screen

Washington Post India bureau chief Gerry Shih shared a screenshot of the deleted post.

“Beijing News social media account accidentally posts its own censorship orders from high up: ban on posts that are ‘not positive toward Russia or positive toward West,'” all user comments must be carefully screened and slowly posted,” Shih tweeted. “P.S. social media guy: you had one job.”

Horizon News is a subsidiary of Beijing News, which is operated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In addition to Horizon News’ apparent accidental post of Chinese media instructions, another Chinese state media editor described China as having to provide some moral support for Russia, but without angering the U.S. and other western nations.

Ming Jinwei, a commentator and senior editor for Xinhua — the official Chinese state press agency — said in his official WeChat blog, “Simply put, China has to back Russia up with emotional and moral support while refraining from treading on the toes of the United States and European Union.”

China and Russia have shown increased partnership in recent years and while not officially allies, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a Chinese-Russian military alliance is “quite possible to imagine.”

In its official reaction to Russia’s actions, China’s government has neither outright supported Russia’s actions nor condemned them. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has instead called for all sides to “exercise restraint.” Wang did call for the sides involved in the Ukraine conflict to consider “legitimate security concerns” echoing Russian calls for commitments from NATO not to expand further east or allow Ukraine into the alliance

The Washington Post assessed that China is likely wary of fully supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as China often cites issues of sovereignty in response to criticisms of its actions in its territories, such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The Washington Post said China likely wants to foster its ties with Russia, but avoid further deteriorating already strained relations with the west.

In his WeChat post, Ming further explained the need to provide subtle support to Russia in its actions in Ukraine, saying, “In the future, China will also need Russia’s understanding and support when wrestling with America to solve the Taiwan issue once and for all.”

While Taiwan considers itself an independent nation, China maintains that the island is a part of its territory. Chinese officials have repeatedly referred to resolving the question of Taiwan’s independence, including by military force. Last fall, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement even vowed to “resolutely crush all attempts at ‘Taiwan independence.’”

In an interview Tuesday, former President Donald Trump shared his own concerns that the U.S. reaction to Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine had emboldened China to act similarly against Taiwan.

Trump said “China’s going to be next” to take aggressive military action. He also said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current actions against Ukraine “never would have happened” during his presidency.

Trump said “Putin would have never done it, and [Chinese leader Xi Jinping] would have never done it,” during his presidency.