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“Taking Down a Tiger”: Li Shangfu Expelled from the Party

Li Shangfu allegedly “took advantage of his position to seek benefits for others and received large sums of money.

Manya Koetse

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On June 27, the news that Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu (李尚福, 1958) had been expelled from the Communist Party became a top trending topic on Chinese social media.

Within two days, the hashtag “Li Shangfu Expelled from the Party” (#李尚福被开除党籍#) had garnered over 490 million views on Weibo.

Li, a Chinese aerospace engineer, served as the Minister of National Defense and as State Councillor of China from March to October 2023. He had been under investigation for corruption since 2023.

On June 27, Chinese state media issued a press release stating that Li Shangfu was expelled from the Party. The report detailed:

“It has been found that Li Shangfu severely violated political discipline, failed to fulfill his political responsibilities to comprehensively and strictly govern the Party, and resisted organizational examination. He severely violated organizational discipline by seeking personal benefits for himself and others. He took advantage of his position to seek benefits for others and received large sums of money, and he is suspected of accepting bribes. More evidence of Li Shangfu’s serious disciplinary violations and legal problems were also discovered during the investigation.”

“As a high-level leading cadre within the Party and military, Li Shangfu abandoned his original mission, lost his Party principles, and his actions severely betrayed the confidence and great trust placed in him by the Party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission. He severely polluted the political environment in the military equipment field and industry, causing enormous damage to the Party’s cause, national defense, military construction, and the image of senior leadership, with an extremely serious nature, extremely bad influence, and particularly huge harm.”

Among the top replies to a post of this press release on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, one Chinese netizen commented: “Taking down a tiger.”

Notably, news also emerged on Thursday that the Party had expelled former defense minister Wei Fenghe (魏凤和) for serious violations of Party discipline and the law.

“Eradicating such people is not a loss to the Party, but a victory,” another Weibo commenter wrote.

Punishing both “tigers” and “flies” (influential leaders and minor officials) is part of Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption. Although the anti-corruption drive was already important before Xi Jinping’s rise to power, the campaign has become a central pillar of his tenure, with China’s battle against corruption setting new records.

In 2014, the arrest of China’s former national security chief Zhou Yongkang (周永康) demonstrated President Xi Jinping’s determination to crack down on high-level corruption. That same year, General Xu Caihou (徐才厚) became another target in Xi Jinping’s war on corruption. The former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission was the highest-ranked PLA military officer ever to be implicated in corruption following Bo Xilai’s arrest in 2012.

They were not the only “tigers” brought down. Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄), former vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, was expelled from the Communist Party and sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for bribery.

Other high-profile cases include the former vice chairman of China’s top political advisory body Su Rong (苏荣); former Hu Jintao aide Ling Jihua (令计划); former Chinese politician and senior regional official Sun Zhengcai (孙政才); and former senior official Wang Min (王珉). All were found guilty of bribery and sentenced to life in prison.

Although the fight against corruption campaign is generally applauded by the people, it remains a sensitive topic, leaving little room for open discussion on social media. One post about Li Shangfu’s expulsion received over 8,400 comments, but only 25 of them were visible at the time of writing.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2024 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 Military

Saying Goodbye to “Uncle Wang”: Wang Wenbin Becomes Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia

There are thriving fan forums filled with thousands of posts and videos dedicated to Wang Wenbin.

Manya Koetse

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When China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Wang Wenbin concluded a regular press conference on May 24, he suddenly said “farewell” (“我们再见”) and stepped down to shake hands with reporters. This surprising moment quickly had his online fan circles buzzing. Was he leaving? Starting a new job? Everyone was speculating.

Wang Wenbin (汪文斌, b. 1971), the Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China, has been with the Foreign Ministry since 1993. His face became familiar to many both inside and outside China after he took on the role of MFA spokesperson in 2020.

Over the years, Wang has become increasingly popular on social media. There are thriving fan forums filled with thousands of posts and videos dedicated to Wang, praising his professionalism and humorous expressions.

Although there were no official reports on Wang leaving his post, hundreds of netizens began saying goodbye to their favorite diplomat.

Nearly two weeks later, on June 4th, it was announced that Wang will be starting as China’s new ambassador to Cambodia. A related hashtag went trending on Weibo (“Wang Wenbin Appointed as Ambassador to Cambodia” #汪文斌候任驻柬埔寨大使#), attracting over 130 million views within a day.

 
“Anhui’s Pride”
 

Why is Wang so popular?

First, his popularity is part of a larger trend of Chinese diplomats being admired and idolized online, a phenomenon detailed in our article here (link).

But besides being part of China’s “Diplomat Dream Team” (外交天团), Wang is admired for his conduct and character. He appears very serious but often shows a smile. He is highly professional, yet occasionally displays a playful side.

These likeable contrasts in his persona also reflect his background. While Wang represents international China, he comes from a small village. Born and raised in Xindu in Tongcheng, Anhui, Wang studied at China’s Foreign Affairs University, majoring in French and economics. He speaks several foreign languages, including English, and once sent out New Year’s wishes in 11 different languages. His success story makes him “Anhui’s pride.”

While Zhao Lijian was known as a real ‘wolf warrior diplomat,’ Wang Wenbin’s style is perceived as more “calm,” “scholarly,” and “refined,” though he remains critical, firm, and assertive. For instance, Wang rebuffed U.S. claims that China might arm Russian troops in the Ukraine war, stating, “it is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield.” He also called the shootdown of the alleged Chinese spy balloon “100 percent hysteria” and urged the United States to abandon its “hegemonic” approaches to international affairs.

For many Wang Wenbin fans, his assertive yet ‘refined’ (‘温文尔雅’) foreign policy resonates deeply, as they appreciate how Wang shapes China’s image abroad: “It’s the perfect interpretation of being a great and elegant great power.”

Wang’s large fanbase on Chinese social media is always creative in editing images of him and adding quotes. In response to the news of Wang’s new position, a flood of new videos popped up in Wang Wenbin fan communities. Many see Wang as relatable, likeable, and a role model, often saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ (汪叔) is just too “cool.”

 
“We’ve got your back”
 

Wang’s role as China’s ambassador to Cambodia is not entirely new to him. He has previously worked in various positions at Chinese embassies in Senegal, Cameroon, and Mauritius, and served as ambassador to Tunisia from 2018 to 2020.

Cambodia is an important regional ally to China, and Sino-Cambodian ties have grown stronger, exemplified by the two countries holding a 15-day joint military exercise in May of this year. Cambodia is a key country for China’s strategic layout in Southeast Asia.

Many netizens are pleased to see Wang Wenbin appointed to Cambodia, though some complain that his “talent is wasted on an insignificant role” (“大材小用” dà cái xiǎo yòng). However, others recognize the growing strategic importance of Cambodia and see Wang’s appointment as a reflection of his significance to China; they suggest he is the right man in the right place.

Wang’s loyal fans wish him nothing but the best in his new position. One person posted: “No matter where you are, we’ve got your back, Uncle Wang.”

Wang Wenbin will replace Wang Wentian (王文天), who served as Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia since November 2018.

Although Wang Wenbin’s online fan communities might become a bit quieter from now on, one thing is certain: he won’t be forgotten. One fan wrote: “From now on, we’ll continue to watch you shine.”

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2024 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

China’s Intensified Social Media Propaganda: “Taiwan Must Return to Motherland”

As ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts.

Manya Koetse

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Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te on Monday, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week.

Chinese state media have launched an intensive social media propaganda campaign featuring strong language and clear visuals, reinforcing the message: Taiwan is not a country, Taiwan is part of China, and reunification with the motherland is inevitable.

On Friday, May 24, almost half of the trending topics on Chinese social media platform Weibo were related to Taiwan, its status, and China’s large-scale military drills around Taiwan that began on Thursday.

 

“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country”

 

On Monday, Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, took office after winning the Taiwan elections in January of this year. He was handed over the leadership by Tsai Ing-wen, who served as Taiwan’s president for two four-year terms.

Before leaving office, Tsai spoke to the media and reiterated her stance that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. In his inaugural speech, Lai also echoed that sentiment, referring to Taiwan as a nation and urging its people not to “harbor any delusions” about China and cross-strait peace.

Although Chinese official sources did not say much about Lai’s inauguration on the day itself, Chinese state media outlet CCTV issued a strong statement on Wednesday that went viral on social media. They posted an online “propaganda poster” showing the word “unification” (统一) in red, accompanied by the sentence: “‘Taiwan Independence’ is a dead-end road, unification is unstoppable.

The hashtag posted with this image said, “Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country,” reiterating a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when Lai won the elections in early 2024.

The propaganda poster posted by CCTV on May 22 was all about “reunification.”

Within merely eight hours, that hashtag (“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country” #台湾从来不是一个国家也永远不会成为一个国家#) received over 640 million views on Weibo, where it was top trending on Wednesday, accompanied by another hashtag saying “China will ultimately achieve complete reunification” (#中国终将实现完全统一#).

 

“With each provocation our countermeasures advance one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved”

 

Starting on Thursday, China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait became a major topic on the Chinese internet.

“Joint Sword-2024A” (联合利剑—2024A) is the overarching name for the land, sea, and air military exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), designed to test the armed forces’ ability to “seize power” and control key areas of the island.

The political message behind these exercises, asserting China’s claim over Taiwan and showcasing its military power, is as visible online as it is offline.

On Weibo, People’s Daily live-blogged the latest details of the military exercises around Taiwan, including strong statements by the Ministry of Defense and experts asserting that the PLA has the capability to hit various crucial targets in Taiwan, including its southeastern air defense zone.

The Eastern Theater Command (东部战区) of the PLA also released a 3D animation to simulate the destruction of “Taiwan independence headquarters,” severing the “lifeline of Taiwan independence.”

CCTV Military (央视军事) posted that the ongoing PLA operation is aimed to break Taiwan’s “excessive arrogance.”

They quoted the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense in saying: “With each provocation from [supporters of] ‘Taiwan independence,’ our countermeasures advance one step further until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”

 

“The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify”

 

One relatively new slogan used in the online propaganda campaign regarding Taiwan this week is “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

However, the slogan is also a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) refers to Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root (“female ginseng”), a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

In one poster disseminated by People’s Daily, Taiwan is depicted on the left – resembling a piece of the yellowish root – as a part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng).

These sentences include slogans like, “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Accompanying the “Taiwan Must Return” hashtag, People’s Daily writes: “‘Taiwanese independence’ goes against history, it’s a dead end. The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify. #TaiwanMustReturn#.”

Within a single day, the hashtag received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo.

Although ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts. The majority of comments from netizens echo official slogans on the issue, expressing sentiments such as “Taiwan will never be a country,” “I support the ‘One China’ principle,” and “Taiwan is part of China.”

A post by CCTV regarding reunification with Taiwan garnered over 100,000 comments, yet only a fraction of these discussions were visible at the time of writing.

Amidst all the slogans and official discourse, there are also some bloggers expressing a broader view on the issue.

One of them wrote: “In the current official media lineup regarding ‘Taiwan is a province of China’, there are no longer any “warnings” or “demands” to be found. The rhetoric has shifted towards reprimands, and towards an emphasis on the legal principles behind the reclamation of Taiwan. I am convinced that a reunification through military force is no longer a ‘Plan B’ – it is the definite direction we are moving towards.”

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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