By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump went around and over the “Great Firewall” of China in a late-night tweet in Beijing as he thanked his hosts for a rare tour of the Forbidden City and a private dinner at the sprawling, centuries-old palace complex.
Many Western social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in China. A sophisticated system has been built to deny online users within China access to blocked content.
That was not an issue for Trump, known for tweeting to his 42.3 million followers at any hour of the day, on Wednesday, the day he arrived in Beijing.
“On behalf of @FLOTUS Melania and I, THANK YOU for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing, President Xi and Madame Peng Liyuan. We are looking forward to rejoining you tomorrow morning!”
Trump even changed his Twitter banner, uploading a photograph of himself and Melania with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, during a Chinese opera performance at the Forbidden City.
The Twitter banner upload did not go unnoticed by Chinese state media, with state broadcaster CCTV flashing screenshots of the photograph on Thursday.
Trump’s visit was also the third-most talked-about topic on Chinese social media platform Weibo over the last 24 hours, trailing only the birthday of a singer in a Chinese boy band and a weekly Asian pop song chart.
Many people wondered how Trump managed to evade China’s tough internet controls.
“I guess he must have done it via wifi on a satellite network,” said a user on Weibo.
Many foreigners log on to virtual private networks (VPNs) to access content hosted outside of China. Another option is to sign up for a data-roaming service before leaving one’s home country.
“The president will tweet whatever he wants. That’s his way of communicating directly with the American people. Why not?” a White House official said ahead of Trump’s arrival in Beijing on Wednesday.
When asked whether China considers Trump’s use of Twitter to be in breach of Chinese law, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said there were many means of communication with “the outside world”.
“In China, people have many channels to communicate, it’s just that they communicate in different ways,” Hua said at a regular ministry briefing. “For example, some people use WeChat, some people use Weibo. Some people use Apple phones, some people use Huawei phones.”
Trump tweeted again on Thursday afternoon, posting an ABC News video montage of the “incredible” welcome parade at the Great Hall of the People, where he was greeted by a military band and jumping, flag-waving children.
In his tweet, Trump embedded a link to a photograph of his Beijing visit on Instagram – also forbidden in China.
Not all of Trump’s tweets in China were bright and cheerful.
“NoKo has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness,” he tweeted about reclusive North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. “This would be a fatal miscalculation. Do not underestimate us. AND DO NOT TRY US.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Sue-Lin Wong; Editing by Nick Macfie)