War on Ukraine: Beijing tones down support for Moscow after backlash
Chinese propaganda manipulates opinions on the invasion of Ukraine. Official media quote Russian media, while opinions on the web against the war are censored. Beijing authorities want to avoid criticism from the international community and possible retaliation against Chinese citizens in Ukraine.
Rome (AsiaNews) - As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensifies, Chinese authorities are growing more cautious in their propaganda and lowering their profile to avoid a backlash to their image. Beijing abstained in the UN Security Council vote against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the meantime, the Chinese authorities have remained silent on Russia's aggression, while refraining from expressing support for Moscow.
In a phone call with Vladimir Putin, President Xi Jinping said that "China determines its position on the Ukrainian issue according to its own interests". The Chinese ambassador to Kiev, Fan Xianrong, announced that he would remain in his post. Fan suggested that Chinese citizens in Ukraine should understand the feelings of Ukrainians and not make provocations. The diplomat reiterated that China "respects Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and the integrity of its territory, in the hope that the country will maintain "peace and stability".
China's official media reported Russian propaganda but also asked Chinese internet users to tone down "speeches praising" the invasion. Moscow propaganda picks up on reports on conditions in Ukraine from the government-run Russia Today and blames the Ukrainian authorities for causing the conflict on their pro-Western policies.
The authorities in China also censor information unfavourable to Russia and anti-war sentiment unleashed by Moscow. The Chinese translation of an open letter by 2,000 Russian scientists and journalists against the war was removed on the Chinese social network WeChat. The government also censored a statement against the Russian invasion published by five Chinese professors.
The position of the Chinese state media is that Russia's military action aims to prevent the eastward enlargement of NATO. According to them, the Russian attacks only target Ukrainian military facilities and infrastructure, not the civilian population. They tell - falsely - that the Russian advance is proceeding fast and smoothly, avoiding using words like 'invasion' and 'war'.
Most online comments are in favour of the Russian army and Putin. Chinese netizens also warn that Taiwan will be abandoned by the US and the West like Ukraine, and that China can easily destroy Taipei's defensive infrastructure in a matter of hours.
There are also outrageous statements suggesting that Ukrainian women be brought to China to be married to Chinese men: posts that have added fuel to anti-Chinese sentiment in Ukraine. After Ukrainians in China turned such information over to their country, Chinese students in Ukraine say they faced hostility from the local population. To save the lives of Chinese in Ukraine, one of them posted a video urging web users in China to stop posting mocking comments. The state-run Xinhua news agency reminded Chinese internet users to behave appropriately and post rational comments.
In these days of crisis, Chinese authorities are also trying to promote patriotism, especially the idea that the government can protect Chinese people abroad and bring them back home at critical times. In the patriotic-themed Chinese film "Wolf Warrior II", which was the 2017 blockbuster, protagonist Wu Jing(吴京) rescues Chinese citizens by crossing a war zone in Africa. The evacuation, done while flying the national flag, takes place after the warring parties stop to let the Chinese convoy through.
However, the Chinese diplomatic mission in Ukraine failed to replicate the exploits of the film. On 25 February, the embassy in Kiev reminded Chinese citizens and companies to be cautious for their safety. In case of long car journeys, it suggested displaying a national flag.
At first, Chinese media said that national flags were the "amulet" of the Chinese people" and that they were sold out in Kiev. Many compatriots who could not buy one sewed it by hand. On 26 February, the embassy suddenly changed its position, asking Chinese citizens not to reveal their identity or show any signs of identification.