Propaganda officials have ordered China's media to stick to the ruling Chinese Communist Party line when reporting on the forthcoming inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump, news of whom "should be handled with care."
In a directive leaked online and published by the U.S.-based China Digital Times website, the propaganda ministry ordered media editors to "adhere strictly to the unified message from centrally controlled media."
"Any copy on Sino-U.S. relations must come from Xinhua news agency," it said.
"Any reporting on Trump must be handled with care, and no unauthorized criticism of his words or actions will be permitted," said the directive, which was also leaked to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.
Trump will be sworn in as U.S. president on Friday, amid strained diplomatic ties after he questioned Beijing's "One China" policy on Taiwan and vowed to put high tariffs on goods from China.
Beijing also reacted furiously when Trump took a phone call from Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen congratulating him on his election victory.
While the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, it regards the island as a province of China awaiting reunification, and has threatened to invade if its government seeks formal statehood.
However, a delegation from democratically ruled Taiwan, where the majority of people have no interest in being ruled by Beijing, will attend Friday's ceremony in Washington.
No love lost
Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo said that while there is no love lost between Trump and the Communist Party, Beijing wants to avoid further exacerbating bilateral tensions.
"They are saying that they want a unified message, which sounds very likely to me," Zha said after appraising the leaked directive. "The subject of Trump is a highly sensitive one for all Chinese media organizations, because of the uncertainty around the relationship with the U.S."
"The Chinese government wants to wait and see what happens next, make its observations, and it doesn't want any trouble starting in the rank and file," he said.
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Xiaomin said Trump's earlier comments about the "One China" policy being negotiable have got Beijing badly rattled.
"They already feel that Trump may not be a very pleasant person to collaborate with, and they are worried about ... a future threat to their power," Huang said.
"So they are tightening controls over the media and public opinion to smooth over the recent confrontations, ridicule and uncertainties with an excess of official diplomacy, to try to repair the relationship, not just with the U.S., but with Taiwan as well," he said.
Huang said some Chinese dissidents are optimistic about the Trump administration, hoping that it will take a tougher line with Beijing on human rights issues than the outgoing president Barack Obama did.
"My friend [dissident Yang Jianli] will be attending the inauguration, and he is very optimistic," Huang said.
"He hopes that the Trump administration will bring a few more opportunities for freedom of expression ... and show respect for human rights in mainland China."