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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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