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Why a nervous China aims to shield citizens from Egypt news

China has limited coverage of the Egypt protest to its Xinhua news service and warned last week that websites that did not censor comments about Egypt would be 'shut down by force.'

By Staff writer / February 1, 2011

Hu Yi Xin (l.) embraced her daughter Rong Xi as she arrived Tuesday from Egypt to the Pudon international airport in Shanghai. Most of China's heavily censored coverage of Egypt has focused on Chinese citizens unable to leave Egypt due to the unrest.

Carlos Barria/Reuters

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Beijing

Like governments around the world, China’s rulers are watching the unrest in Egypt with bated breath – nervous about the outcome, but powerless to affect it.

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China is worried about chaos, because that is bad for Egypt and for other countries,” says Yin Gang, a Middle East expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences. “China’s concern is the same as America’s … but China has very little influence in the Middle East.”

Beijing has been studiously neutral in the face of mass demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities calling for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Asked on Tuesday for China’s views on the new Egyptian government that has promised economic and political reforms, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would say only that “we hope that Egypt will return to stability and normal order as soon as possible.”

The Chinese authorities are even more concerned about preserving stability and normal order at home. Apparently fearing that Chinese citizens be inspired by Egyptian protesters, the government has issued strict orders limiting press coverage of the unrest.

“All media nationwide must use Xinhua’s reporting on the Egyptian riots,” read a directive issued last Friday, referring to the state run Xinhua news agency. “It is strictly forbidden to translate foreign media coverage,” the order said, warning that websites that did not censor comments about Egypt would be “shut down by force.”

“One major reason for the censorship is that Chinese officials do not know the direction of the protests,” says Russell Leigh Moses, a political analyst in Beijing. “Reporting depends almost entirely on direction from the leadership and uncertainty never produces consensus in Beijing.”

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