Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen disappears from Chinese social network

Searches for "Tsai Ing-wen" and "Taiwan elections" on Weibo network have been blocked.
Searches for "Tsai Ing-wen" and "Taiwan elections" on Weibo network have been blocked.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WEIBO

BEIJING (AFP) - Freshly elected Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen disappeared from China's most popular social network on Saturday (Jan 16), with censors working swiftly to block any mention of the Beijing-wary politician as she stormed to victory on the island.

Searches for "Tsai Ing-wen" and "Taiwan elections" on the Twitter-like Weibo network turned up a message that read: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the results for this search cannot be shown," a signal for words blocked by China's army of Internet gatekeepers.

The island's first female president won in a landslide victory over the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) on Saturday, as voters turned their backs on closer China ties.

Support for Tsai has surged as voters have become increasingly uneasy about a recent rapprochement with China under the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou.

Tsai wasted no time in warning China that "suppression" would harm cross-strait ties in her first comments to international media following her win, adding that "our democratic system, national identity and international space must be respected".

China has some of the tightest Internet controls in the world, deleting online content it deems to be sensitive and blocking Western websites and the services of Internet giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google with the so-called "Great Firewall of China".

Tsai's historic victory was initially reported very briefly by the majority of Chinese news websites in the aftermath of the KMT conceding, describing her as "the leader of the Taiwan region".

The term "president" is viewed as conferring legitimacy on the island's claim to sovereignty.

Although Taiwan is self-ruling after it split with China following a civil war in 1949, it has never declared independence and Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

Earlier in the day, searches for the Taiwanese girl-band member Chou Tzu-yu, 16, were also censored after she was forced to apologise for waving Taiwan's official flag in a recent Internet broadcast, angering mainland Chinese fans.

Her remorseful video went viral within hours, with Tsai, her defeated KMT opponent Eric Chu, and outgoing president Ma all leaping to her defence and demanding answers over her treatment.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office blamed "political forces in Taiwan" for using Chou's case to "provoke conflict", according to a report from state news agency Xinhua, posted on the affairs office website.