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American Student Gets 15 Years of Hard Labour in North Korea For Stealing Poster

The 21-year-old American student Otto Warmbier joined a Chinese tour group to Pyongyang in late December, where he was later arrested and given 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state. The news has got Weibo talking.

Manya Koetse

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The 21-year-old American student Otto Warmbier joined a Chinese tour group to Pyongyang in late December, where he was later arrested and given 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state. The news has got Weibo talking.

Yonhap News reported on March 16 that the North Korean Supreme Court sentenced the 21-year-old Virginian student Otto Warmbier to 15 years of hard labour in a public trial. Warmbier is suspected of stealing a political poster in a Pyongyang Hotel in January of this year. His conviction for ‘crimes against the state’ was reported by several Chinese media and shared on Sina Weibo, where many netizens don’t seem to sympathize much with the US citizen.

“What was he doing there anyway?” many netizens wonder. Other netizens draw a comparison between China and North Korea; “This punishment sounds very familiar..” is a comment made by multiple Weibo users. “North Korea is no joke,” one netizen comments: “If it wasn’t for the reform policies of Deng Xiaoping, we would also be in a similar situation.”

“This boy was too bold, too naive, and did not understand that some countries are really scary. I would never dare to go to North Korea, and if I did, I would never pull something like that,” one netizen writes.

News of Warmbier’s arrest was first released by North Korean state media on January 22 (see screenshot, from the North Korean state news agency website). Young Pioneers Tours, the budget travel group joined by Warmbier, also released a statement about his arrest on the same day.

North Korean Statement whatsonweio

Chinese news portal The Observer and CCTV report that Warmbier committed the crime in return for financial compensation from an American church group, the Friendship United Methodist Church, that promised him a 10,000 US dollar second-hand car for the poster. In case he would be detained, the church group had promised to give his mother 200,000 US dollar. The church allegedly had close connections with the American CIA. The Friendship United Methodist Church released an official statement on its website, saying they prayed for Warmbier’s quick and safe return, and that “any further comment would neither be appropriate or helpful while the student is still being detained.”

Information about the alleged agreement between Warmbier and the church was shared by Warmbier himself, who spoke at a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang on Monday February 29th – but it is unknown if Warmbier was forced into this confession, that seemed rehearsed and unnatural (see footage of press conference below).

Many of Weibo netizens believe that the American church group ordered Warmbier to commit the crime: “There have always been connections between religious groups and spies,” one Weibo user comments.
“What kind of church is this?! How scary!” others write.

“In China there are also more and more followers of Christianity, maybe this is also a movement that is secretly supported by the Americans,” one netizen says.

“This guy is just a victim,” another Weibo user says: “If the relations between North Korea and the United States don’t improve, he might be stuck there for life.”

Another Weibo netizens expresses a different view: “He’s treated well, gets to learn Korean for free, and can write a book about his experiences and make money with it when he gets home!”

– By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Media

CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020 Overview: Highlights and Must-Knows

What is Chinese New Year without the CCTV Spring Gala? What’s on Weibo reports the must-knows of the 2020 ‘Chunwan.’

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Chinese social media is dominated by two topics today: the CCTV New Year Gala (Chunwan) and the outbreak of the coronavirus. Watch the livestream of the CCTV Gala here, and we will keep you updated with tonight’s highlights and must-knows as we will add more information to this post throughout the night.

As the Year of the Rat is just around the corner, millions of people in China and beyond are starting the countdown to the Chinese New Year by watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, commonly abbreviated in Chinese as Chunwan (春晚).

The role of social media in watching the event has become increasingly important throughout the years, with topics relating to the Chunwan becoming trending days before.

Making fun of the show and criticizing it is part of the viewer’s experience, although the hashtag used for these kinds of online discussions (such as “Spring Festival Gala Roast” #春晚吐槽#) are sometimes blocked.

The Gala starts at 20.00 China Central Time on January 24. Follow live on Youtube here, or see CCTV livestreaming here.

 
About the CCTV New Year’s Gala
 

Since its very first airing in 1983, the Spring Festival Gala has captured an audience of millions. In 2010, the live Gala had a viewership of 730 million; in 2014, it had reached a viewership of 900 million, and in 2019, over a billion people watched the Gala on TV and online, making the show much bigger in terms of viewership than, for example, the Super Bowl.

The show lasts a total of four hours, and has around 30 different acts, from dance to singing and acrobatics. The acts that are both most-loved and most-dreaded are the comic sketches (小品) and crosstalk (相声); they are usually the funniest, but also convey the most political messages.

As viewer ratings of the CCTV Gala in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year-on-year.

According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia, including the performance of different revolutionary songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国).

To take a look at what was going on during the Spring Gala’s previous shows, also see how What’s on Weibo covered this event in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2019.

 
Live updates
 

Check for some live updates below. (We might be quiet every now and then, but if you leave this page open you’ll hear a ping when we add a new post).

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Media

Iran “Unintentionally” Shot Down Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752

Despite the overall condemnation of Iran, there are also many pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Manya Koetse

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Shortly after Iran’s military announced on Saturday that it shot down Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers on board, the topic has become the number one trending hashtag on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

In a statement by the military, Iran admitted that the Boeing 737 was flying “close to a sensitive military site” when it was “mistaken for a threat” and taken down with two missiles.

Among the passengers were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals.

Earlier this week, Iranian authorities denied that the crash of the Ukrainian jetliner in Tehran was caused by an Iranian missile.

The conflict between US and Iran has been a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media, also because the embassies of both countries have been openly fighting about the issue on Weibo.

Although many Chinese netizens seemed to enjoy the political spectacle on Weibo over the past few days, with anti-American sentiments flaring up and memes making their rounds, today’s news about the Iranian role in the Ukrainian passenger plane crash is condemned by thousands of commenters.

“Iran is shameless!”, one popular comment says. “This is the outcome of a battle between two terrorists!”

“Regular people are paying the price for these political games,” others write: “So many lives lost, this is the terror of war.”

The Iranian Embassy in China also posted a translated statement by President Hassan Rouhani on its Weibo account, saying the missiles were fired “due to human error.”

Despite the overall condemnation, there are also many commenters pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Meanwhile, the American Embassy has not published anything about the issue on its Weibo account at time of writing.

The hashtag “Iran Admits to Unintentionally Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane” (#伊朗承认意外击落乌克兰客机#) gathered over 420 million views on Weibo by Saturday afternoon, Beijing time.

Chinese state media outlet CCTV has shared an infographic about the US-Iran conflict and the passenger jet news, writing they hope that these “flames of war” will never happen again.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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