Chinese president Hu Jintao has opened a microblog, adopting the technology despite his government’s work to stifle free speech by microblog users in China.
Twitter has been blocked in China since last year and authorities are asking its Chinese rivals to censor messages posted by users, adding another page to China’s playbook for quashing discussion of certain political and other sensitive topics online.
Hu’s microblog is on a service run by the People’s Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, and is only visible to registered users of the service. Hu had not made any posts as of Monday, but thousands of people were signed up to receive his messages, according to reports by local media including the Global Times.
Posts visible to the public on the microblog site showed many users saying they had just created accounts after hearing Hu had done so as well. Some users wished Hu a happy Chinese New Year.
Hu’s account had no picture but listed his political titles. It was not clear when the account was opened.
U.S. President Barack Obama has a Twitter account and other global political figures keep microblogs as well. Hu is the first elite Chinese official to open a microblog but he and other officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao , have previously appeared in online chat sessions targeted at the public. The government has sought to emphasize that it supports the growth of the Internet even though police monitor it for sensitive content, like discussion of elite government corruption or the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, and Web companies can be punished if they allow users to post such information.
Google, which is number two in China’s online search market, last month said it plans to stop censoring results on its China-based search engine, even if that means being forced out of the country. The move threw global attention on China’s censorship policies. Google has said it is in talks with Chinese authorities but has not yet removed the filters on Google.cn.