Thomas Friedman Could Not Be Reached for Comment

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The Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on the internet, describing online criticism of the ruling Communist party as illegal and airing a televised confession from one of the country’s most popular online commentators.

An article in Monday’s edition of the influential party journal “Seeking Truth” described online criticism of the party and government as “defamation”, while Chinese-American investor and internet personality Charles Xue appeared on state television in handcuffs on Sunday to praise new legislation that in effect criminalises online dissent.

The moves are part of a wider campaign launched in recent weeks by newly installed President Xi Jinping to stifle calls for political reform in China and assert control over the country’s unruly internet.

Mr Xue, who boasts 12m followers on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, was arrested in August for allegedly hiring prostitutes for group sex sessions, but most analysts and even senior officials say his arrest was intended as a warning to other prominent internet personalities.

There was no mention of the prostitute allegations in a 10-minute segment aired on China Central Television on Sunday, during which a chastened Mr Xue described how he had contributed to an “illegal and immoral” atmosphere on the Chinese internet.

“I felt like the emperor of the internet,” Mr Xue said when describing the thrill of speaking directly to more than 12m followers. “How do you think that felt? Awesome.”

The shackled Mr Xue also praised a legal interpretation issued by China’s judicial authorities last week, which allows people to be prosecuted for defamation or “spreading online rumours” if their posts are viewed by more than 5,000 internet users or forwarded more than 500 times.