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Nightmarish Night in Itaewon: Fatal Halloween Stampede in Seoul

The devastating Halloween stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon is among the deadliest stampedes worldwide of the past decade.

Manya Koetse

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What was supposed to be the first big Halloween party night since the pandemic turned into a tragedy in Seoul’s Itaewon, where 154 people lost their lives in a stampede, including four Chinese nationals.

A devastating stampede that occurred in the Itaewon area of Seoul, South Korea, is making headlines around the world and is also receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media on the late night of October 29 and early morning of October 30. “Itaewon” was among the top search keywords on Weibo, receiving over 220 million views in the early hours of Sunday (#梨泰院#).

The incident took place amid Halloween celebrations in the city, where large crowds tried to push forward on a narrow street near a major central party spot. Photos and videos from above show how the crowd became so large that people got crushed. According to the latest reports, at least 146 154 people died in the stampede.

Nightmarish footage circulating on Weibo shows medical staff providing first aid and treatment to victims on the street while the party music was still blasting from the speakers at nearby party venues.

The incident took place around 22.40 local time, when crowds got so large that people were unable to push forward. Around 23:30, around fifty people were reportedly already being treated for cardiac arrest.

On the social media platform Weibo, many of the top commenters responding to the Itaewon stampede are Chinese citizens who are living in Seoul, some assessing that there were over 10,000 people in the street when the incident happened.

“I’m so happy I left early,” some people said, with other Seoul-based netizens saying: “So grateful that I felt too tired to go out tonight.”

“I was at the scene, now still on our way back. All roads were closed off by emergency vehicles and police cars.”

“Stampede incidents can just happen like that,” others said, while many people were posting virtual candles on Weibo and saying that this news made them unable to sleep.

China has also seen stampede incidents in the past. On 31 December 2014, a deadly stampede occurred in Shanghai during New Year celebrations, leaving 36 people dead and another 49 injured.

For some netizens, the tragedy in South Korea makes them reflect on the epidemic situation in China, where the zero-Covid policy makes events where such enormous crowds can gather unfathomable. At the same time, there were also many netizens who said this was not an appropriate time to link the Itaewon incident to China’s zero-Covid policies.

Considering the current death toll, the Itaewon stampede is already among the most deadly stampede incidents of the past decade.

The Astroworld Festival stampede in Texas, which also received a lot of media attention in 2021, left 10 people dead. The much-covered Berlin Love Parade disaster of 2010 caused the deaths of 21 people. In 1993, 20 people were reported to have been killed in a stampede in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong during New Year celebrations.

Update 30 October: Chinese official media reported on Sunday that four Chinese citizens were among the 154 people who lost their lives in the stampede (#韩国踩踏事故已有4名中国公民遇难#).

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China World

About That Moment When Xi Jinping and Justin Trudeau Briefly Talked at G20

China-Canadian relations haven’t exactly been warm and friendly recently. This short Xi-Trudeau encounter made it all the more clear.

Manya Koetse

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On November 16, a video showing a noteworthy exchange at the closing sessions of the G20 in Bali between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went viral on Twitter.

Annie Bergeron-Oliver, @AnnieClaireBO, a reporter at the Canadian news outlet CTV National News, posted the video on Twitter at 15:40 China central time on Wednesday. It has since received 8.7 million views.

As person filming walks closer, the conversation caught on video is as follows:

Xi: “报纸上去,不合适啊 [Bàozhǐ shàngqù, bù héshì a].” (“It’s not appropriate to go to the newspaper.”)

Translator: “Everything we discussed has been leaked to the paper, that is not appropriate.”

Xi: “而且我们也不是那样进行的, 对吧 [Érqiě wǒmen yě bùshì nàyàng jìnxíng de, duì ba].” (“And that’s not how we conducted it, is it?”)

Translator: “That’s not the way the conversation was conducted.”

Xi: “如果有诚心,咱们就应互相尊重的态度来进行谈话。否则这个结果就不好说了 [Rúguǒ yǒu chéngxīn, zánmen jiù yīng hùxiāng zūnzhòng de tàidù lái jìnxíng tánhuà. Fǒuzé zhège jiéguǒ jiù bù hǎoshuōle].” (“If you’re sincere, then we should conduct talks with mutual respect, otherwise the outcome is unsure [not easy to say].”)

[Xi Jinping seems to want to start to walk away, body language indicates he is done with this conversation.]

Translator: “If there is sincerity on your part…”

[Trudeau interrupts the translator and starts speaking.]

Trudeau: “In Canada, we believe in free and open and frank dialogue and that is what we will continue to have. I continue to look to work constructively together but there will be things we disagree on, we will have to..”

[Xi Jinping interrupts both Trudeau and the translator.]

Xi: “创造条件. 创造条件 [Chuàngzào tiáojiàn, chuàngzào tiáojiàn].” (“Create the conditions. Create the conditions.”)

Translator: “Let’s create the conditions first.”

Xi: “好 [Hǎo].” (“All right then”).

[Xi shakes Trudeau’s hand and walks off.]

As pointed out by Twitter user @Maoviews, Xi Jinping seems to be saying “很天真 [Hěn tiānzhēn]” when he walks off, meaning “so naive.”

The exchange between Trudeau and Xi is likely related to an earlier informal exchange the leaders had at the sidelines of the G20 on Tuesday, November 15. Although English-language media reported about the informal meeting in a crowded room on Tuesday, mainland Chinese media did not.

Trudeau and Xi talk on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Tuesday.

Western media outlets reported that in the informal conversation, Trudeau supposedly:

– raised concerns over suspected domestic interference by China in Canadian federal elections
– discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with Xi
– spoke about North Korea
– highlighted the importance of the upcoming summit in Montreal regarding climate change
– talked with Xi on the importance of continued dialogue

…and all that within a mere ten minutes!

Relations between Canada and China have not exactly been warm and friendly recently. Last month, Canada’s industry minister François-Philippe Champagne suggested that Canada and the U.S. should want a “decoupling” from ‘rivals’ such as China and other countries that do not share “similar values.”

Earlier this month, the Canadian government ordered several Chinese companies to sell their stakes in three small Canadian lithium miners, arguing that the investments “pose a threat to national security.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign affairs called the move an “unreasonable suppression of Chinese companies” (#外交部回应加方无理打压中国企业#), fuelling more online discussions on Weibo and beyond about Canadian authorities holding on to “anti-Chinese” narratives.

On November 8, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also responded to allegations of China meddling in Canadian elections. “The Chinese side has no interest in Canadian internal politics,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) said firmly (#外交部回应特鲁多称中方干涉加拿大选举#).

Some on Twitter, including Shanghai Daily reporter Andy Boreham, also linked the brief exchange between Xi and Trudeau to China-Canadian bilateral conversations held regarding Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou.

A story published by the Wall Street Journal on October 27 of this year focused on the “top-secret negotiations” that surrounded the imprisonment of two Canadian citizens in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, at a time when Huawei’s CFO and founder’s daughter Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on December 1st of 2018 on suspicion of bank fraud. Meng was accused of helping to disguise Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

But Chinese officials saw her arrest in Canada and possible extradition to the U.S. as an unjust move and Washington power play. The two Canadians arrested in China – just days after Meng’s detainment – were accused of threatening national security and espionage.

The article, titled “Inside the Secret Prisoner Swap that Splintered the U.S. and China,” describes in detail the negotiations between Canada, the U.S., and China, which eventually led to Meng’s return to China and the 2021 release of the two Canadians. The newspaper calls it a major “prisoner swap.”

On Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Douyin (TikTok), the video of the brief talk between Xi and Trudeau was nowhere to be found, but the Douyin autocomplete feature in the search bar clearly showed there is a general interest in the topic: upon filling in “Trudeau” (特鲁多) it suggested: “Trudeau Xi”, “Trudeau not appropriate”, “Trudeau scolded video.”

The Xi-Trudeau video is nowhere to be found on Chinese social media, but the autocomplete function in Douyin search shows the general interest in the incident.

On Chinese search engine Baidu, there were zero search results for Xi meeting Trudeau over the past week.

Meanwhile, various Chinese media accounts did post videos of Trudeau and his informal encounter with UK Prime Minister Sunak. The ‘Weibo World’ (微博天下) account wrote: “They only just arrived and already started drinking” (“刚到刚G20就喝上了”)。

The English-language state media platform Global Times did mention the brief encounter between Trudeau and Xi, writing: “During the welcoming ceremony of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the initiative to approach Chinese President Xi Jinping to chat, the Global Times learned on Wednesday from a source at the scene. But the conversation between the two leaders was very short, the source added.”

Global Times also reported that Trudeau had expressed the hope to have the opportunity to talk with Chinese leader Xi Jinping “about the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine, Canada-China relations, biodiversity and other issues,” and that Xi’s response was that “the key requirement for China-Canada relations is finding a common ground while managing the difference.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China and Covid19

Victory of Perseverance? Visions of China’s ‘Dynamic Zero’ Covid Future

Many commenters have a less rose-colored view of the future of ‘zero Covid’ than some of China’s opinion makers.

Manya Koetse

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While China is seeing the worst Covid outbreak in months and resentment is rising over strict lockdowns and ‘excessive’ Covid measures, Chinese political pundits and opinion leaders are painting a rosy picture of the future of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy.

It is the Start of Winter (立冬) and China is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases across the country.

There currently are approximately 40,000 confirmed Covid cases in the mainland, with the biggest outbreaks taking place in Guangdong, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang.

At the same time, frustrations over strict lockdowns and excessive anti-epidemic measures have been building recently, and there has been a lot of anger over a lack of emergency medical care for people in isolation in, among others, Ruzhou, Lanzhou, and Hohhot.

On Monday, November 7, political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who used to be the editor-in-chief of Global Times, commented on China’s ‘dynamic zero’ Covid policy. Hu does so more often – in September 2022 he also published a lengthy post about China’s epidemic prevention.

China’s zero Covid policy is all about the speedy detection of new cases, followed by a quick response to curb the spread of the virus immediately and bring the epidemic situation under control. Because it is an ongoing process, it is called ‘dynamic zero’ (动态清零), with cases being extinguished soon after they are detected and with the eventual goal of having zero new infections in society (社会面清零).

The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, made a few noteworthy comments in his recent post.

Hu suggested that the strict lockdowns in some parts of China are just not sustainable and that cities should stop striving to reach complete elimination of Covid cases. Instead, he advocated for a more relaxed and local approach, but did point out that Chinese cities could perhaps get back to focusing on reaching “zero” cases in the summer of 2023 (“到了明年夏天,也许一些城市可以重新追求零感染”).

By adhering to a model where Chinese regions stay in complete control when it’s about the spread of the virus, China will have drastically fewer deaths than in the West and its ‘dynamic zero’ approach will be remembered as a historical, “world-renowned achievement,” according to Hu.

 

“If we can remain in overall control and can keep the number of deaths far lower than in the West (..) then our epidemic prevention will benefit all 1.4 billion Chinese people, and will shine throughout history!”

 

Early on in his post, Hu Xijin suggests that the goal of ‘zero Covid’ is not actually to reach zero cases, but to keep the Covid outbreak in China under control:

The ‘dynamic zero’ [policy] is not really about pursuing zero infections at all times, it is about continuing to keep the epidemic situation under control. Reaching absolutely zero infections should not be the goal of every city for this winter; by summer of next year, some cities can perhaps again pursue to have zero infections, but it is not realistic for this winter season. Thoroughly eliminating an especially active virus would exceed the basic level management capabilities in the majority of cities and the situation in Urumqi, Zhengzhou, and other cities shows that even if you carry out strict and lengthy lockdowns, the virus still continues to spread throughout the community.”

Hu Xijin suggests that Beijing is the number one city in China when it comes to efficiently implementing Covid measures and responding to new cases. Yet, even Beijing is now seeing a spike in new cases, so Hu’s reasoning is that if Beijing can’t even reach ‘zero’ Covid, then no other city can.

If ‘zero’ Covid is impossible, Hu implies, cities might as well be a bit more relaxed in their epidemic approach because the socio-economic cost of doing city-wide or district-wide lockdowns is so high, while the effects might be relatively minimal: Covid will still find a way. Hu writes:

Beijing hasn’t carried out a large-scale lockdown, and the economic and social life in the city has been the most relaxed of the nation. Lockdowns have all been done locally [small-scale], and as everyone saw, Beijing held its first marathon in three years yesterday. That’s another step forwards. When there are outbreaks in other cities, especially when cases are scattered, and cities want to reach ‘zero Covid,’ they can only do that through the method of wide-scale or even total static management. But even if it is done like that, it does not mean they can realize a total elimination of Covid cases this winter while the social and economic costs of pursuing a ‘zero Covid’ goal are actually too high. The reality across the country is that people are less and less willing to cooperate with area-wide static management [lockdowns]. Regardless of whether you look at it from the standpoint of public opinion or from that of the financial burden, it is not sustainable to go on like that.

Hu suggests that focusing on keeping infection rates low is more effective than maintaining a ‘zero’ Covid policy. By focusing on lower numbers instead of zero cases, cities can keep the burden on social and economic life low, while also avoiding an epidemic crisis. This basically is what ‘dynamic zero’ is all about.

Anti-epidemic workers waving a Chinese flag, posted via @漫长岁月

In the conclusion of his post, Hu calls China’s epidemic prevention a “world-renowned success” that has saved the lives of millions of people over the past three years:

Facing new circumstances, if we can maintain complete control, and can keep the number of deaths far lower than in the West while also safeguarding our economy and the order of social development, then our epidemic prevention – at every stage and in its entirety – and its achievements will benefit all 1.4 billion Chinese people, and will shine throughout history!

Hu Xijin’s lengthy post and rose-colored outlook on the future of Covid zero received over 11,000 ‘likes’, but clearly did not impress all of his readers. Some replied: “So you’re basically just explaining the concept of the zero Covid policy again?” “Beijing the most relaxed?” others wondered.

“Stop wide-scale nucleic acid testing!” some said, with others replying: “We can’t continue to blindly follow the zero Covid policy.” “Listen to the voices of the people.”

Another commenter replied: “If we still want to be practical and realistic, we must admit that zero Covid is impossible, and we can’t pay such a high price to go on a mission that will never end. We should revise the general policy and insist on controlling the scale, protecting lives, and preventing hospitalization.”

Some who replied did agree with Hu’s words, writing: “A world-renowned success: it highlights the necessity of unswervingly insisting on ‘dynamic zero’!”

 

“What must we hold on to? The dynamic Zero Covid policy! Let the West lie flat, because the pandemic will have serious repercussions for them.”

 

Hu Xijin is not the only Chinese opinion maker who is describing the country’s zero Covid strategy as one that will go down in history as a glorious victory.

In late October, a short video went viral on Twitter showing a Chinese businessman giving a speech in which he claimed China would come out of the pandemic as the winner since the West would be brought to its knees because of the long-term impact of the pandemic. He explicitly mentioned long Covid and its supposed devastating effects on the labor force in the West.

I can only say, you’d have to be stupid if you want to give up [lie flat] now. We definitely cannot give up now. What must we hold on to? The dynamic Zero Covid policy! Understand? Let the West not do anything [lie flat], because the pandemic will have serious repercussions for them. So we definitely cannot let it go. So as an ordinary consumer, an ordinary citizen, we cannot forget national humiliation. The people inside the system are much smarter and more advanced than we are. You do not get the basic picture at all. (..) Just do what you’re told. We will win. If the epidemic continues another ten years, we don’t need to fight anymore, the whole world will have fallen.”

The man speaking is Gu Junhui (顾均辉), a finance, business, and strategic positioning expert with a very small following of 336 fans on his Weibo account.

As Gu’s video was widely shared on Twitter, it also started circulating on Chinese social media, where the majority of commenters dismissed Gu Junhui as another self-proclaimed ‘expert’ riding his high horse: “Nobody is listening to this idiot.”

Others ridiculed him for such a stance, writing: “So China can finally win if the West dies out?!” Some even suggested that Gu was a comedian instead of a finance expert.

Despite the online banter, Gu’s vision of China’s dynamic zero Covid future is a recurring one in China’s online media sphere, where other bloggers and authors also measure China’s success through U.S. failures.

Blogger/author Lu Xiaozhou (@卢晓周) wrote on Weibo on November 8 that the U.S. will be drained out because it chose to “lie flat” and live together with Covid-19, a virus that is unpredictable and which scientists around the world still have not figured out.

He says that China, on the other hand, is maintaining a balance between social stability and economic development through its dynamic zero Covid policy.

According to Lu, it’s simple: dynamic zero Covid is “right” whereas coexisting with the virus is “wrong.”

 

“The dynamic zero Covid policy comes at a high price, and when we give up dynamic zero, we will welcome a big epidemic wave. No matter if it happens this year, next year, in five years’ time, in ten years’ time, or in fifty years’ time, that moment will eventually come.”

 

During a press conference Saturday, Chinese health officials stated that China would “unswervingly” stick to its zero Covid policy. A hashtag about the topic (#坚持动态清零总方针不动摇#) received 220 million views on Weibo.

In October of this year, Chinese Party newspaper People’s Daily (人民日报) already published an article titled “Dynamic Zero Is Sustainable and Must Be Adhered To” (“动态清零”可持续而且必须坚持”) (read more).

Nucleic acid testing, photo by @dotdotnews.

It is clear that many commenters have a less rose-colored view of the future of ‘zero Covid’ than some of the opinion makers.

One Zhejiang-based doctor named Gong Xiaoming with over 4,6 million followers on Weibo (@龚晓明医生) had a more sober expectation of the future:

I was prohibited from posting for three months last year after I commented on the epidemic, but I still want to speak my mind. The dynamic zero Covid policy comes at a high price and when we give up dynamic zero Covid, it means we will welcome a big epidemic wave. That moment in time, no matter if it happens this year, next year, in five years’ time, or in ten years’ time, or in fifty years’ time, it will eventually come. So the authorities in every region must ask themselves one question: when then moment comes, are we ready?

Dr. Gong continues:

The 1 per 1,000 mortality figure is backed by enough medical resources, and it will probably be higher when there is an instant influx of patients and we don’t have enough medical resources. What is even more important in relation to the mortality rate is: do we have enough intensive care beds? If we still have another year, then let us please use this precious time to strengthen the establishment of the ICUs at local hospitals, to set up respiratory intensive care units, and let use this time to purchase good mechanical ventilators and equipment, strengthen the staff team, especially the medical team, which is not something that can be done within a day or not even within a month. A month ago I paid a visit to a county town with 200,000 inhabitants and the county hospital did not have one single IC bed. This made me deeply concerned. Perhaps I’m overly anxious, and the government might already be taking these steps, but if regional leaders have the vision, please strengthen your local hospital’s intensive care medical departments. Our timeframe is getting shorter. In addition to the construction of ICU, there is also medication, vaccines and other issues that need to be considered.”

Dr. Gong uses graphs with data from Taiwan to support his story, showing an uptick of cases after Taiwan let go of its own ‘zero Covid’ policy in April of 2022.

Other voices also express similar visions on the future of dynamic zero in China, seeking for science-based prospects and realistic strategies: “I really hope that the authorities can provide timely and accurate information. The main point is not whether or not we should have the dynamic zero policy, but rather how we can go forward with dynamic zero on a scientific basis,” another popular blogger (@卢麒元) wrote.

Although Dr. Gong’s post was reposted hundreds of times, the comment section was not available at the time of writing (“抱歉,该内容暂时无法查看”).

Political commentator Hu Xijin should be able to appreciate Dr. Gong’s input. In September of this year, Hu argued that more Chinese experts should come forward with suggestions and views based on science in order for the online discourse to focus more on science and rationality rather than letting “discussions be dominated by loud voices on social media.”

 
By Manya Koetse

 

-Photo by Xiangkun ZHU on Unsplash
-Photo by Yun XU on Unsplash
– Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash

 

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