China’s censorship on Sina Weibo in overdrive after former official Bo Xilai is charged with bribery

141218383 520x245 Chinas censorship on Sina Weibo in overdrive after former official Bo Xilai is charged with bribery

China’s censorship is in overdrive after a former high-ranking official Bo Xilai was charged today with bribery, embezzlement and power abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Censors have reportedly been taking down unfavorable comments on China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, that criticize the Communist Party or express sympathy for Bo. Many of the deleted posts are shown on the Free Weibo site. The WSJ report also mentions that a note of support from a microblogger in Dalian, the city where Bo started his political career, was later deleted.

It is possible too that some of the posts may have been deleted by Sina Weibo’s “rumor control” team – which aims to dispel false news and information, though in some cases, its hand appears to be forced by the government.

Bo, a former Communist Party politician, captured the attention of Chinese citizens and people from all over the world as details of his allegedly corrupt life surfaced last year – which included links to the mysterious death of a 41-year-old British businessman in a Chongqing hotel room that was declared a murder.

His downfall caused a huge political shockwave that reverberated to the online world, and most comments went through Sina Weibo, with the WSJ noting that back then plenty of posts debated on whether Bo was a criminal or a sacrificial lamb.

Last year, this led to three of China’s most influential Internet companies – Baidu, Sina and Tencent – pledging to “firmly support and cooperate with relevant government departments in cracking down and probing web rumors.”

Subsequently, this time round the comments on Sina Weibo in response to Bo’s news are largely supportive of the government. Several comments say that the Communist Party has made the right decision to charge Bo, and that Bo’s indictment proves the government’s determination to stamp out corruption and that they believe in the Party.

The one-dimensional tone of these comments leaves one to believe that China’s censors have been hard at work. The WSJ report notes that this could be the work of so-called trolls or the “Water Army” – real people who use so-called zombie accounts to post comments online to influence public opinion.

Among other social media services, Twitter is blocked in China. On the other hand, Sina Weibo has more than 400 million registered users and the service enjoys a large profile in China, becoming a force to be reckoned with. This has resulted in Sina Weibo having to walk a fine line between exerting control on the service and letting it operate organically as a forum for dissent and “free”(er) speech. This time round, it seems the government has the upper hand.

Headline image via Mobile Monday Bangkok

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Tencent Launches New Mobile Open Platform Initiative Ahead Of Alibaba’s IPO

Tencent MyApp

Over the last week, we’ve been keeping an eye on Tencent and Alibaba as the two Chinese Internet giants ramp up their competition ahead of Alibaba’s highly-anticipated IPO, which is expected to have a $100 billion valuation. Tencent has been holding its own with products like its popular messaging app WeChat, but it has taken several additional steps to strengthen its position against Alibaba, including a recent $195 million investment in a logistics firm.

Now the company has announced an open platform strategy to attract top app developers (h/t TechNode). This gives them access to Tencent’s app distribution channels, as well as other resources like free consulting services and co-working spaces in Beijing, Chengdu, and Wuhan. In return, Tencent can more quickly build up its mobile ecosystem to compete with Alibaba, as well as other major Internet companies like Baidu and Qihoo.

There are currently about 850,000 apps on Tencent’s platform and developers have earned a total of 5 billion RMB (about $800 million) since 2011, the company said today. With the launch of its open platform initiative, Tencent says its developers will have the opportunity to make twice that amount over the next two years. Along with WeChat, Tencent’s mobile products include messaging platform QQ, the QQ mobile browser, WeChat payment, and several shopping apps.

Tecent’s open platform initiative may also make its app distribution platform, MyApp, which it relaunched last month, more attractive to top developers. The company says that MyApp is currently ranked fourth in China’s app distribution market with a 12% market share, behind Baidu (38%), Qihoo (28%) and Wandoujia (15%).

The country’s app distribution ecosystem is very fragmented, with over 200 marketplaces, but highly lucrative for its top players. For example, this week Wandoujia announced that it raised $120 million in funding led by SoftBank Corp., while last year 91 Wireless was purchased for $1.9 billion by Baidu, the largest acquisition so far by a Chinese Internet company. So Tencent’s aggressive strategy to attract more top developers makes a lot of sense.

Xiaomi will make joint announcement with Tencent next week on product-related partnership with QQ

87326302 520x245 Xiaomi will make joint announcement with Tencent next week on product related partnership with QQ

Rumors typically abound in the Chinese tech scene, and Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi has been bombarded by plenty recently – with one report a few days back notably saying that Xiaomi had received an investment of $2 billion from Internet giant Tencent via Russian investment firm DST.

In a bid to dispel these rumors, Xiaomi has confirmed to The Next Web that it will be holding a press conference on July 30 (UPDATE: the press conference has been postponed to July 31) to announce a product-related partnership with QQ – Tencent’s instant messaging platform.

The press conference was first announced on Xiaomi’s official Sina Weibo account, which said that it will reveal an “important partnership” next week. Li Wanqiang, one of the seven founders of Xiaomi, elaborated on the teaser by saying that Xiaomi will be collaborating with QQ – but only in terms of products and nothing else.

You can see a (very cute) poster uploaded by Chinese media outlet IT 168 that depicts Tencent QQ and Xiaomi’s cartoon figures on something that resembles a wedding invitation and alludes to a “happy marriage”, sent by Xiaomi to members of the Chinese media.

Xiaomi QQ Poster Screenshot Xiaomi will make joint announcement with Tencent next week on product related partnership with QQ

All we can do is wait and see what will be announced.

Xiaomi has been well on the rise recently, and it would not be surprising at all for more collaborations to crop up, riding on Xiaomi’s success – which has been attributed to its ability to inspire the loyalty of many consumers. Its competitively priced phones are sold in batches that, when released in phases, regularly sell out fast, often within half an hour.

The last phones it launched were the Xiaomi Mi-2S and the Xiaomi Mi-2A in April this year, which followed last year’s launch of the popular Xiaomi Mi2 phone.

The handset maker booked RMB13.27 billion ($2.15 billion) in revenue for the first six months of this year, exceeding the amount it recorded for the whole of 12 months, which stood at RMB12.6 billion. The 7.03 million devices sold in the first six months this year was also just shy of the 7.19 million units that Xiaomi sold during the whole of 2012.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Xiaomi will be closing a round of funding at the end of July that values it at $9 billion.

Headline image via Thinkstock

China to send in surveyors to disputed Senkaku islands

Chinese mapping agency vice-director says team will visit Japanese-controlled territory at an ‘appropriate time’

China will send a team to survey islands at the heart of an increasingly heated dispute with Japan, a Chinese official has said.

It is Beijing’s clearest statement yet that it intends to set foot on the Japanese-controlled territory.

The remarks by the Chinese mapping agency vice-director, Li Pengde, added to the sharpening rhetoric between the two sides over a set of uninhabited islets known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

In an interview with the state broadcaster CCTV, Li said China planned to send a team on to the islands to study their layout at an “appropriate time”. Surveying by land would allow the mapping of caves and other features not visible from the air, Li told the station.

“My hope is that we can get under way under conditions where the situation is relatively good and the survey team’s physical safety can be assured,” Li said.

The islands are the focus of a decades-long dispute that reignited in September when the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from their private owners. The move had been intended to prevent the islands being bought by Tokyo’s former nationalist mayor, who wanted to build a dock there for Japanese fishing boats and also backed sending experts to study their wildlife and terrain.

The purchase prompted anti-Japanese protests in China, and Beijing has regularly sent ships to confront the Japanese coastguard in the area since tensions spiked.

Japan’s coastguard forbids anyone of any nationality from landing on the islands, including Japanese and Chinese nationalists seeking to plant flags there.

The chain is made up of five main islands with a total area of just over six sq km (2.3 sq miles), covered in rock, scrub brush and seabird habitat. They have been uninhabited since 1940, when a fish processing plant on the main island closed, and were under US administration from the end of the second world war until 1972, when they were returned to Japanese control.

Although China’s claim to the islands is based on its interpretation of historical records, it has sought to use cartography to support that by issuing maps last year that ascribed place names to even the smallest rocks and outcrops.

The islands lie amid rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of natural gas and other undersea mineral resources. They are roughly midway between Taiwan – which also claims sovereignty over them – and the Japanese island of Okinawa.

China and Japan have accused one another of tailing each other’s aircraft in the area. Last month Japan said a Chinese ship had locked its weapons fire control radar on to one of its ships in a hostile act. China denied the claim and accused Tokyo of seeking to escalate tensions.

China said it would continue patrols indefinitely, in an apparent attempt to wear down the Japanese coastguard.