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The Uncomfortable Truths That Got John Oliver Blocked in China

Late night talk show host John Oliver was scrubbed from China’s internet over the weekend in response to a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that criticized President Xi Jinping, according to The New York Times.

Internet regulators also blocked users from accessing HBO, which airs Oliver’s show.

The comedian joined the likes of Winnie the Pooh, the fictional character that has long been censored in the country following an explosion of memes that suggest Xi resembles the honey-loving bear — a joke that Oliver kept returning to in his segment.

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Throughout the episode, Oliver lampooned Xi for his authoritarian tendencies, including China’s widespread censorship, human rights abuses, and the recent abolishment of presidential term limits that have paved the way for Xi’s indefinite reign.

Oliver alluded to the the last Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, who led the country into a famine that caused 45 million people to starve to death, as well as a cultural revolution that killed millions more.

Oliver also argued that China’s growing clout has weakened human rights enforcement around the world.

The comedian talked about China’s extraordinary economic growth over the past three decades, which has helped lift 800 million people out of extreme poverty.

“It’s been going through seismic social, economic, and political changes which have happened head-spinningly quickly,” he said.

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But he suggested that the lack of checks and balances on Xi could exacerbate inequality and poverty throughout the country, especially in areas where people hold views contrary to the ruling party, including the minority Uighur Muslim population in Western China.

The Uighurs have been severely repressed over the past several years and have been forced into re-education programs because of their religious beliefs.

Oliver also noted that China’s economy has been slowing down, which threatens to strand large sections of the country in poverty. Although China has vastly reduced extreme poverty over time, the average China citizen still lives in poverty.

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In fact, the average annual income for urban households is $4,500, and the average rural household gets by on just $4 a day, according to Real Clear Politics.

Oliver also spent time exploring two of Xi’s major policy programs.

The first is called the Belt and Road Initiative, or “One Belt, One Road,” which involves $1 trillion of infrastructure investments in more than 60 countries, with the ultimate aim of transforming global commerce by putting China at the center of trade routes.

Oliver’s team went on to parody a kid’s jingle that China created to promote the project.

“Compare him to this [Winnie the Pooh] and he will get pissed,” a boy raps. “You’ll end up on an untrustworthy list, but jailing his foes can’t alter what’s true, my man Xi Jinping looks like Winnie the Pooh.”

The other program is a social credit system that China has deployed to rank the social worth of people. If a person’s score gets too low because of infractions like tax fraud, smoking in non-smoking areas, and dissent, Oliver said, then they can be barred from buying plane and train tickets and real estate, using high speed Internet, and more.

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Before Oliver closed the segment, he warned that US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of pressure on China could make Xi’s authoritarian tendencies worse.

The Trump administration recently withdrew from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, and has refrained from challenging countries on human rights.

“Trump is blowing up the traditional alliances that have helped influence Chinese behavior on important issues,” Oliver said. “And that has been great news for Xi Jinping, as has been the fact that human rights don’t seem to be a big Trump priority.”

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