China blocks Wikimedia from UN agency over Taiwan issue for second time

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China has blocked Wikimedia Foundation’s bid for observer status at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on Oct. 5, according to the non-profit that hosts the Wikipedia domain.

This is the second time it has done so since the San Franciso-based foundation’s first application in 2020.

Yesterday, China blocked the Wikimedia Foundation’s application for observer status at @WIPO, the @UN agency for intellectual property. This objection interferes with our mission to strengthen access to free knowledge everywhere. (1/2) https://t.co/LKIW0iAnY3

— Wikimedia Foundation (@Wikimedia) September 24, 2020

Wikimedia further said that exclusion from WIPO would impede Wikipedia’s ability to provide millions of people with information in their own languages.

WIPO, which is currently headed by Singaporean Daren Tang, promotes the protection of intellectual property worldwide.

Accused Wikimedia of carrying out political activities via Wikipedia Taiwan

According to the foundation, other countries like Switzerland, Turkey and Australia supported the group’s inclusion as an official observer, and it did not name other countries that supported China’s veto.

China had claimed that Wikimedia’s application was incomplete, and that the foundation was conducting political activities via the Wikimedia Taiwan chapter.

Beijing’s delegate also said information on its application and its Wikipedia pages are “inconsistent”, and had therefore asked for further “clarifications”.

In addition, the representative said China has found a massive amount of “contents and misinformation” on Wikipedia that “go against the one China principle“, and suggested that Wikipedia Taiwan is carrying out “political activities that aim to destroy China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Wikipedia blocked in China

China has blocked access to Wikipedia in all languages in 2019. Previously, only Chinese-language pages were banned. According to the BBC, Wikimedia wasn’t informed of the ban.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory, despite the Chinese Communist Party never governing the island, and has not ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan into the mainland fold.

Taiwan’s page in English and Traditional Chinese on Wikipedia currently state that the self-ruled island is a “country”.

In a statement, Wikimedia Taiwan said that it sticks to the principle of neutrality, and does not push for “the point of view from any particular country or government” on controversial topics.

The chapter had also voiced its pessimism last year, saying that Wikimedia’s bid for observer status at WIPO will never go through as long as the chapter exists.

Bid will never succeed unless China approves

As WIPO is run by consensus, any disapproval from a country may veto accreditation requests by non-governmental organisations.

Wikimedia added that it will reapply for observer status in 2022, but emphasised that its application will only go through if China decides to “lift its blockade”.

Fighting against infiltration by mainland Chinese group

In addition, Wikimedia told the BBC that there has been an “infiltration” in Wikipedia’s Chinese-language pages over the past year.

In a note from the foundation’s vice-president Maggie Dennis to volunteers, she described the infiltration as being “unprecedented in scope and nature”, and said that “credible threats” to volunteers’ safety prompted them to take a series of steps to deal with the issue.

She added that the group has been fighting against “capture” through organised efforts to control the information being shared on the crowd-sourced resource, so as to put forth a particular viewpoint.

Such battles for the version of events that’s presented on Wikipedia, where editing is open to anyone, are most prominent on controversial issues that Beijing finds sensitive.

For instance, Hong Kong Free Press has reported a conflict between different groups of users editing pages on Hong Kong’s political events. Wikipedia volunteers in Hong Kong also claimed that they are finding it harder to look for a diverse range of reliable media sources to cite, while their mainland counterparts are pressing for Chinese state media to be used.

After investigations into a group called “Wikimedians of Mainland China”, seven users were banned, while administrator privileges had been stripped away from another 12.

“Wikimedians of Mainland China” had in turn accused Wikimedia of “baselessly slandering a small group of people”, adding that its action had “hugely impaired” the platform’s neutrality.

They told Global Times that they are planning to establish a new encyclopedia that has “more flexibility and choices”.

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Top image adapted via Wikimedia