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Reactions to Brexit in Chinese (Social) Media

News of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is fully dominating international headlines and has become the number one trending topic on Sina Weibo. As Brexit is now also making front-page news in China, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of reactions to Brexit in Chinese (social) media

Manya Koetse

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News of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is fully dominating international headlines and has become the number one trending topic on Sina Weibo. As Brexit is now also making front-page news in China, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of reactions to Brexit in Chinese (social) media.

Britain’s vote to leave the EU is dominating the headlines worldwide. On June 24, ‘Brexit’ also made it to the number one spot of Weibo’s trending topics list under the hashtag of ‘Britain out of EU Referendum’ (#英国脱欧公投#). For many Chinese media outlets and netizens, the outcome of the Brexit referendum shows the risks of democracy and populism.

 

“We’re eyewitnesses to history.”

 

“We’ve become eyewitnesses to history,” Chinese netizens said (“我们竟然成为了历史的见证人”), with others already advising younger generations to remember this day: “Dear students, this will be an exam question. In which year, what month and what day did Britain leave the European Union?”

trending

‘Brexit’ is the number one trending topic on China’s biggest social media platform Sina Weibo.

British prime minister Cameron announced that he would resign after the referendum outcome and that a new leader would be needed by October. That news was shared on Sina Weibo over 6050 times within twenty minutes after its release. “The UK is surely moving fast today,” one Weibo netizen responded. Another commenter jokingly writes: “Cameron says: ‘You stupid retards, I was just playing around and you fools took it seriously!'”

Other Chinese netizens also make fun of Cameron (卡姆伦), saying that by allowing this referendum over the UK’s EU membership to take place, he has “crushed his foot while trying to move a rock” (“搬起石头砸自己的脚”) – that he has fallen into the pit of his own digging. “You’re not careful for a second, and before you know it you’ve made history,” one netizen comments.

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Chinese reactions to Brexit on Sina Weibo: “We’ve become an eyewitness to history”.

There are also netizens who seem to understand Britain’s choice for leaving the EU: “It is like a husband and wife,” one commenter says: “If you can go on, you stay together, but if you cannot go on, you get a divorce. Staying together would only intensify the conflict.”

 

“Britain leaving the EU is a reflection of the ongoing global trend of populism.”

 

On Tencent’s opinion and commentary In Touch Today platform, Chinese author Xi Yinghong (奚应红) says Britain leaving the EU is a reflection of the ongoing trend of populism (民粹主义) that is currently spreading not only in Europe, but throughout the world. Xi writes that the division between those voting to “remain” and “exit” the EU can be crudely seen as a disagreement between the British (political) elite and the ordinary people, who seem to “speak a different language” on a variety of issues, “making communication difficult”:

“While London’s social elite is still loudly debating the negative implications of Brexit for UK economy, migration, and national sovereignty, the masses are more likely to be infected by these kinds of slogans: ‘We want to control our own borders, formulate our own laws, and get our money back from Brussels.’ Although they are talking about the same issues, the way they are expressed reflect a different psychological and emotional stage – and this difference is especially evident when it comes to the issue of immigration.”

According to a Tencent opinion poll that accompanied the article, a majority of Tencent readers already expected Britain to leave the EU.

poll

Opinion poll by Tencent: “Do you think the UK will leave the EU?” 31.47% says they will remain, 68.53% says they will leave.

On the question: “Do you think populism is a dangerous global trend?”, 35% of netizens indicated they do not perceive populism as a potential threat, whereas nearly 65% of participants do feel it is potentially dangerous.

threat

The opinion poll by Tencent: “Do you think populism is a dangerous global trend?” 35.41% says no, 64.59% says yes.

One much-upvoted comment to the article says: “The issue of Britain leaving the EU is a very complicated one that involves political, economic, as well as diplomatic problems. It is an issue that should’ve been be left to the experts, not to ordinary people who do not have a fundamental understanding of economics and foreign diplomacy. Now the British need to bear the consequences of their choice.”

 

“The democratic system will drag Britain through the mud.”

 

Influential economic newspaper The Economic Observer (观察) made Brexit big front page news (featured image) today, with headlines saying: “Britain Leaves EU, Cameron Resigns”. In the leader, journalist Li Lin (李晽) wonders “whether Cameron will be condemned by history in the UK and throughout Europe” for the outcome of the Brexit referendum, that could cause a “butterfly effect” (蝴蝶效应).

One reader comments: “Some people will be happy and some will be sad that UK is separating itself from Europe. Fact is that the democratic system will further drag Britain through the mud. It seems that a major reshuffle in the world is really about to begin now.”

China’s biggest newspaper The People’s Daily (人民日报), the official news outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, did not make Brexit front page news. Instead, their headlines are all focused on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, 海合作组织) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where Chinese president Xi Jinping met with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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Not Brexit, but the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting was on the frontpage of China’s largest state media outlet.

The two presidents reportedly spoke about the promotion of the SCO in regional development and security. Apart from Russia and the PRC, the 2001-founded Shanghai Cooperation Organization currently has 6 other members, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Putin and Xi also spoke about enhancing the Sino-Russian bilateral ties and their strategic partnership. Brexit was not part of their agenda meeting.

 

“This day will go into the history books as the moment that led to the collapse of the European Union.”

 

Some media and netizens also discuss to what extent Brexit will influence China. According to the West Strait Morning Post (海西晨报), experts say the referendum’s outcome will be positive for Chinese students studying abroad due to the devaluation of the pound. They also state that Britain’s vote to leave the EU is expected to have a “limited impact” on the trade relations between China and Europe.

Many Chinese netizens follow the news about Europe with much interest. A post by the Chinese Wall Street Journal saying: “After Brexit, Dutch politician Geert Wilders has promised to organize a referendum about the Netherlands leaving the EU” has attracted much attention and was shared over 10,000 times within a couple of hours.

wilderstrending

Dutch politician Geert Wilders is a much talked-about topic on Chinese social media today.

 

“First Britain leaves the EU, and then the Netherlands will follow. The EU is crying,” a Weibo user says.

“I can understand it,” one other commenter says: “Even countries like Turkey will enter the EU, and the Netherlands would not want that.” “Muslim immigration has greatly contributed to countries leaving the EU,” another netizen comments.

Overall, many netizens see Britain’s vote to leave the EU as the beginning of a further disintegration of the EU. Apart from a potential referendum in the Netherlands, there are also many expecting a second independence referendum in Scotland. News and analysis outlet Caixin.com writes: “The UK decision will encourage the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and other countries to also leave the EU,” reporting about a speech given by U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage earlier today.

“I have an inkling that this day will go into the history books as the moment that led to the collapse of the European Union,” one Weibo user concludes.

– By Manya Koetse

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©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 Insight

“Support Xinjiang MianHua!” – China’s Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton Ban

The hashtag “Wo Zhichi Xinjiang Mianhua” – “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” – received over 6 billion views on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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Western brands faced heavy criticism in China this week when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI.

In 2019, an extensive brand ‘witch hunt’ took place on Weibo and other Chinese social media networks in light of the protests in Hong Kong, with international fashion and luxury brands, from Versace to Swarovski, getting caught in the crossfire for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

Now, another brand ‘witch hunt’ is taking place on Chinese social media. This time, it is not about Hong Kong, but about Xinjiang and its cotton industry.

H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and other international brands have caused public outrage for the stand they’ve taken against the alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

The social media storm started earlier this week on Wednesday, March 24, and is linked to H&M and the ‘BCI’ (Better Cotton Initiative), a Swiss NGO that aims to promote better standards in cotton farming.

In October 2020, H&M shared a statement on its site in which the Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang, officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

H&M stated that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, following the BCI decision to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in the region.

 

BCI and its Suspension of Activities in Xinjiang

 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. It practices across 23 countries and accounts for 22% of global cotton production. The governance group was established in 2005 in cooperation with WWF and leading retailers, with the aim of promoting the widespread use of improved farm practices.

While H&M is a ‘top member’ of the Better Cotton Initiative (link), many others brands such as IKEA, Gap, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, and C&A are also brand members.

January 2020
In January of 2020, the BCI was slammed by Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington DC, for its refusal to pull out of the Xinjiang region. At the time, 20 percent of its ‘better cotton’ was sourced from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.

According to a 2020 report by EcoTextile, the BCI maintained that its implicated council member, the yarn producer Huafu, denied the allegations and that an independent audit of the company’s Aksu facility in Xinjiang had failed to identify any instances of forced labor. An earlier report by Adidas from 2019 also stated that their independent investigations found no evidence of forced labor.

March 2020
In late March of 2020, the BCI reportedly did suspend activities with licensed farmers in the Xinjiang region for the 2020/21 cotton season while also contracting a global expert to conduct an external review of the Xinjiang situation. Chinese state media Global Times later reported that despite suspending its licensing activities, the BCI would remain committed to cotton farming communities in Xinjiang and would continue to engage in activities in the region.

July 2020
The pressure on BCI and other brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang was heightened when a coalition of civil society groups raised concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and the “grave risk of forced labor.” Reuters reported that more than 180 organizations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that would benefit from the alleged forced labour of Uyghur other Muslim groups.

October 2020
In October of 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative announced it would cease all field-level activities in Xinjiang with immediate effect because the region had reportedly become “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” The aforementioned statement by H&M came out in the same month.

March 2021
By late March 2021, various Chinese state media reported on the BCI suspension. These reports came days after a coordinated effort by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, something which was called a “concerted effort to slander China’s policies in its Xinjiang region” by Global Times. The news outlet linked these “anti-China forces’ efforts” to the BCI decision to suspend its Xinjiang activities.

 

A Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton

 

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott movements and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands, with H&M being the main target over its Xinjiang statement.

Chinese e-commerce platforms Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Meituan’s Dianping on Thursday all removed H&M from their platforms, with Chinese Android app stores also removing H&M. On Thursday, a search for “H&M” came up with no results on these sites (see images below).

Two of China’s largest online maps also removed H&M from its systems.

No H&M on these maps.

On Thursday, virtually all topics in Weibo’s top trending lists related to the Xinjiang cotton ban (see image below), with Chinese famous influencers and celebrities one by one announcing they would terminate their contracts with international brands related to the Xinjiang cotton ban.

The storm became so big this week that some people on social media even commented that “if you’re a Chinese celebrity and you don’t have any contracts to terminate now, you’re not doing so well.”

After H&M, an entire list of brands was targeted, including Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Converse, Puma, Burberry, and Lacoste.

In light of the heated discussions and calls for boycotts, there was also another hashtag that popped up on Weibo, namely that of “don’t make it hard for the workers” (不要为难打工人). The hashtag came up after some Chinese staff members at Nike and Adidas stores were scolded on a live stream, with netizens calling on people to stay rational and not let the boycott turn into personal attacks on people. But another popular video showed a man in Chongqing calling customers out in an H&M store for buying their “trash.”

Another hashtag gaining many views, 520 million in total, was that of two ‘girls from Xinjiang dancing outside H&M’ (#新疆小姐姐在HM门店外跳新疆舞#) – it was linked to a video that showed two women performing outside of a H&M store in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, some brands, including Chinese company Anta Sports and the Japanese Asics, reportedly announced they would leave the Better Cotton Initiative in order to continue sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The discussions on Xinjiang as Weibo saw this week are unprecedented, as ‘Xinjiang’ was previously a sensitive topic on Chinese social media and was barely discussed in political contexts. The last time Xinjiang became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media was in 2018, when CCTV aired a program on the region’s “vocational education programs” in Xinjiang. That media moment triggered mixed reactions on Weibo, with some commenters wondering what the difference between a ‘re-education center’ and a ‘prison’ is.

 

Chinese State Media and the ‘Xinjiang Cotton Ban’

 

While Chinese netizens and celebrities play a major role in the storm that erupted over BCI, H&M, and Xinjiang cotton, the role of Chinese state media is pivotal.

Over the past week, various state media outlets posted strong messages regarding the ban in various ways, the most noteworthy one being People’s Daily‘s “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) hashtag, which had garnered six billion views by the weekend. “The H&M Group released a statement that sparked outrage among netizens. Let’s pass it on together: Support Xinjiang Cotton,” the tagline of the hashtag page said.

The message came with an image saying “Xinjiang Mianhua” (Xinjiang cotton) in a similar font to the H&M logo, the “H” and “M” within ‘mianhua‘ being identical to the H&M letters.

The image and post by People’s Daily was shared over 36 million times.

A message by People’s Daily: those who slander China are not welcome.

Another image by People’s Daily published on March 25 said that the Chinese market does not welcome those who slander China.

The Communist Youth League also contributed to the online storm by posting about H&M, writing: “On the one hand they are starting rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton, on the other hand they want to make money in China. Dream on, H&M!” That post received around 430,000 likes.

Various official media, including Global Times and China Daily, posted about cotton production in Xinjiang. Besides refuting the forced labor accusations and accusing Western players of hypocrisy and ulterior motives, a recurring issue stressed is how 42 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton is harvested by machines. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng was quoted as saying that “the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nonexistent and entirely imaginary. The spotless white Xinjiang cotton brooks no slander.”

This image was posted by China Daily USA.

On March 27, People’s Daily posted a rap video by ‘Xinjiang Youth’ (新疆青年) on its official Weibo channel (video below) that included some tough lines attacking Western powers, companies, and media.

Also noteworthy in this propaganda campaign is how the Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill got caught up, as what he said in one of his videos was quoted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) on March 27 during a press conference, with his video being screened before the conference.

In this video, that was part of a larger panel on Xinjiang, Dumbrill responded to the decision-making process on how China’s treatment of Uyghurs is called a “genocide.”

Recently, a number of countries and parliaments including the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have declared that China’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities amounts to “genocide” in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. Dumbrill talks about why the Xinjiang narratives matter to both the foreign and domestic politics of the US and other Western countries, with Dumbril claiming it “isn’t really about human rights and a care for overseas Muslims” but about other political goals. Dumbrill’s video was praised by authorities, state media, and by Chinese netizens.

“We have to push for the truth to come out,” some netizens commented. Others wrote: “But we’re only allowed to discuss it from within [the country].”

Meanwhile, while many companies are seeing sales falling, there are also many who are benefiting from the current developments. Some sellers on Taobao have found another way to attract customers, promoting their products as being made with “100% Xinjiang Cotton!”

As this is an ongoing topic, we will report more later. Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 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

About Yang Jiechi’s Instant Noodle Lunch at the US-China Talks in Alaska

Chinese state media want to make sure that you know that top diplomat Yang Jiechi had instant noodles for lunch during the top-level US-China talks in Alaska.

Manya Koetse

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A 12-second video in which top diplomat Yang Jiechi said he had an instant noodle lunch became a topic of discussion in China, where one hashtag on the issue attracted over 270 million views. It’s about more than noodles alone.

The high-level talks between U.S. and Chinese officials in Alaska concluded on Friday. While international media describe the talks as “tough” and exposing the “depth of tensions” between the United States and China, many netizens also focus on the smaller events that occurred during the talks.

Besides the cool and collected way in which Chinese interpreter Zhang Jing (张京) went about her job, the fact that Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) had remarked he had instant noodles for lunch also triggered discussions on Weibo.

Chinese state media outlet CGTN published a short video showing how Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) and Yang walk to enter a session of the high-level talks, with Wang asking Yang “Have you had lunch?” Yang then answers: “Yes, instant noodles.”

The topic was discussed on Weibo in multiple threads and under the hashtags “Yang Jiechi Had Instant Noodles for Lunch” (#杨洁篪午饭吃泡面#) and “The Instant Noodles Yang Jiechi Had for Lunch” (#杨洁篪午饭吃的泡面#). The latter received had 270 million views on Weibo by Sunday evening.

Noteworthy enough, the hashtag page “Yang Jiechi Had Instant Noodles for Lunch” was initiated by Party newspaper People’s Daily. Together with the video published by CGTN, this shows that state media are purposely bringing ‘noodle gate’ to the attention of readers – both inside and outside of China.

Some Chinese news outlets reported that no formal dinner was arranged for the Chinese diplomats at the strategic dialogue due to COVID19, and that their lunch apparently consisted of simple noodles.

On Twitter, Christian Goebbels (@Chri5tianGoebel), Professor of Modern China Studies at the University of Vienna, commented: “My first thought when seeing this was: this is a complaint that the hosts didn’t even serve their guests a proper lunch, which Chinese viewers (and the guests!) would consider incredibly rude. If they wanted to create a good atmosphere, they should’ve served up a banquet.”

Jonathan Sullivan, Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies at University of Nottingham, called the noodle incident a “meaningful detail” on Twitter (@jonlsullivan), writing: “It fits the narrative that the US is inhospitable & disrespectful, incapable of treating China as a power of equal standing.”

Many netizens on Weibo take a similar stance, writing: “The American etiquette is unsatisfactory,” and: “Let’s not pay attention to food, they completely lack etiquette.”

“Jeez, these Americans don’t even care about food,” others wrote.

“It’s extremely insulting,” one blogger wrote: “This is a superpower, their strategy is despicable, to send our diplomatic staff off with a bucket of noodles!”

On Twitter, George Washington University Law Professor Donald Clarke called ‘noodle-gate’ a “non-story,” saying: “A reliable source tells me that China agreed on no joint meals for Covid reasons. Thus, no big banquet. If someone wants to order noodles instead of a proper meal from room service, they can do that, but it’s their choice, not something forced on them.”

But meanwhile, on Weibo, commenters are adding that plenty of restaurants in Alaska are still operating, suggesting that there would have been options to socialize safely.

In Chinese culture, it is a custom to hold a banquet for business, diplomatic, or even trivial events, with meal gatherings being used as a social lubricant; a way to build and maintain relations.

With food and meal gatherings being such an important part of communicative practices in relationship-building in China, Yang Jiechi having instant noodles by himself for lunch is much more than just that. From the perspective of many Chinese, it shows little consideration for the Chinese cultural background and not a lot of hospitality from the Americans towards their Chinese guests.

The fact that the US-China talks were icy does not help. State media outlet Global Times said that American National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “unjustifiably attacked and accused China’s domestic and foreign policies” and “seriously prolonged its opening remarks.”

The Chinese delegation blamed the Americans, who invited the Chinese to Anchorage to have the strategic dialogue, for lacking “hospitable [and] good diplomatic etiquette.”

The noodle incident already led to one Guancha blogger coining the term ‘noodle diplomacy’ (“泡面外交”).

“The decline of the US starts with a bowl of instant noodles,” some said on Weibo.

“Let’s at least hope it was a ‘unifying’ beef noodle that he had,” some on Weibo jokingly commented.

Although many see the noodle lunch as a symbol of American inhospitality, there are also many commenters who see it as a practical and safe way to have lunch: “It’s good this way – at least nobody can poison him.”

“I want to know which brand [of instant noodles] he’s having, I want it too!”

By Manya Koetse

Featured image by Miguel Andrade.

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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