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China widens crackdown on LGBTQ groups and content
03:35 - Source: CNN

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During this year’s Pride Month, soccer star Li Ying made history as China’s first female athlete to come out publicly as gay, in a candid series of celebratory photos posted on social media, showing her posing happily alongside her partner.

It’s increasingly common worldwide for celebrities and high-profile sports stars to come out, often to widespread public support. But in China, Li’s announcement received a very different reaction.

Her post, uploaded on June 22 onto Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, immediately went viral, becoming one of the top trending topics on the platform. And while much of the reaction was positive, with people sending their congratulations, Li’s account was also inundated with a wave of homophobic abuse. The post was later deleted without explanation.

Li has not posted on Weibo since. Chinese state-run media, meanwhile, did not report on Li’s announcement, nor the subsequent reaction it generated.

Li’s experience is just the tip of what for many was something of a grim Pride Month in China. In years past, June was filled with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) events in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, during which China’s sexual minorities could semi-openly celebrate their identity.

Chinese soccer star Li Ying last month became China's first female athelte to come out publicly as gay.

But in August 2020, China’s biggest and longest-running LGBTQ festival, Shanghai Pride, was canceled due to mounting pressure from local authorities. When Pride Month 2021 arrived, few events were held, and those that were remained largely underground.

“Every year it becomes more and more challenging,” one Chinese LGBTQ artist, who asked not to be named for fear of government reprisal, told CNN. “Events are fewer and advocates are finding it more and more difficult to raise acceptance.”

In recent decades, sexual minorities in China seemed to have received gradual — though uneasy — acceptance by authorities.

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from its official list of mental disorders in 2001.

But with same-sex marriage still illegal and Chinese authorities banning “abnormal sexual behaviors” from the media in 2016, the impression among many is that LGBTQ people are free to explore their identities — so long as they do so in private.

The ongoing clampdown on LGBTQ spaces appeared to accelerate on July 6, when China’s most popular messaging app WeChat suddenly shut down dozens of LGBTQ accounts run by university students, one of the most widespread and coordinated acts of censorship targeting sexual minorities in the country in decades.

When several users attempted to access the groups, they received a notice saying, “After receiving relevant complaints, all content has been blocked and the account has been put out of service.”

Speaking to CNN under a pseudonym, Cathy, the manager of one of the deleted groups, said spaces for the LGBTQ community to speak openly are shrinking rapidly in China.

“Our goal is to simply survive, to continue to be able to serve LGBT students and provide them with warmth. We basically don’t engage in any radical advocating anymore,” she said.

After the shutdown of LGBT WeChat groups on Tuesday, Hu Xijin, editor of the state-owned tabloid Global Times, claimed on his blog that there was “no restriction” from the Chinese government on the “lifestyle choices” of sexual minorities, or “discrimination and suppression” from public opinion.

Hu said if LGBTQ people in China could just accept their country was never going to be on the “forefront” of rights for sexual minorities, they might be happier.

“LGBT people in China at this stage should not seek to become a high-profile ideology,” he said.

Some LGBTQ people have blamed the crackdown on the incorrect impression that homosexuality is a Western import into China, and groups supporting gay rights are liable to infiltration by foreign forces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has increasingly stressed the ruling Communist Party’s absolute control over every aspect of society. Some also suspect a more direct link between the crackdown on LGBTQ rights and top officials’ worldviews, which for many were shaped during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, when authorities attempted to purge any “non-socialist” elements — including homosexuality — from Chinese society.

“Nationalist trolls stigmatize LGBT activists as being supported by foreign forces. Just like what they did to the feminist activists,” the LGBTQ artist said.

Around Asia

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped 12 members from his cabinet, including the federal ministers for health and law, in a major reshuffle Wednesday, following fierce criticism over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Tokyo Olympics will be held without spectators when it begins later this month, after the Japanese government announced a state of emergency would continue in the capital until August 22 due to rising Covid-19 cases.
  • Facing vaccine shortages at home, Taiwan citizens are going on “Visit and Vaccination” holidays to the US territory of Guam, where tourists aged 12 and up are able to get their first shot on the day they arrive.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said he was “seriously thinking” about running for vice president in the 2022 Presidential election. The strongman leader is barred for running for a second term as president under the country’s constitution.

Outrage over Didi’s botched IPO grows in America

The firestorm over Didi’s disastrous IPO is getting even fiercer.

A member of the US Senate’s banking committee on Thursday called on American financial regulators to investigate the Chinese ride-hailing company’s public offering.

“The [US Securities and Exchange Commission] should thoroughly investigate this incident to see if investors were intentionally misled by Didi’s public disclosures,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told CNN Business in a statement.

Didi raised $4.4 billion by listing its shares on the New York Stock Exchange on June 30, marking the biggest US IPO by a Chinese company since 2014.

But the share price collapsed within days, costing US investors dearly. The selloff was triggered by a crackdown from China, which announced on July 4 it was banning Didi from app stores in the country because it poses cybersecurity risks and broke privacy laws.

“American investors need confidence that the companies that list on US exchanges are not engaging in fraud and should have access to information on the risks posed by investing in foreign companies — especially those influenced by foreign governments,” Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, said in the statement.

The SEC did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

There’s growing outrage within the United States over the IPO. Republican Senator Marco Rubio told the Financial Times this week that it was “reckless and irresponsible” for Didi to be allowed to sell shares. He argued that American investors have “no insight” into Didi’s financial strength “because the Chinese Communist Party blocks US regulators from reviewing the books.”

Former President Donald Trump late last year signed a law that requires US-listed companies to be held to American auditing standards and establish they are not owned or controlled by a foreign government. Under the law, companies that fail to comply with US auditing standards for three years in a row will get kicked off US exchanges.

– By Matt Egan

Photo of the day

0709 newsletter photo of the day

Aging elegantly: While dancing in public squares has become a popular exercise among the elderly in China, some seniors are pursuing dancing as a more serious pastime. In Henan province, a group of women in their 60s have formed an amateur ballet group, pushing their physical limits to perform challenging routines.