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“The Biden Era is Approaching”: Discussions of U.S.-China Relations under the ‘Sleepy King’

Now that the electoral storm has somewhat settled, the issue of what Sino-American might look like under Biden is much discussed in Chinese online media.

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Joe Biden on the Great Wall, CCTV 拜登到中国爬长城 http://news.cctv.com/world/20081105/123682_3.shtml

Now that the storm of jokes and memes surrounding the American elections has settled, more serious discussions regarding Biden’s win and what it might mean for China are surfacing in China’s online media environment. These commentators and academics approach the subject from different angles.

The American elections have been a major topic of discussion in the Chinese social media environment over the past weeks.

For many netizens on Weibo and beyond, the presidential race was one between the ‘King of Understanding’ (懂王, also ‘King of Knowing’) and the ‘Sleepy King’ (睡王).

Trump’s quotes on the things he knows and understands “more than anyone else” have become somewhat famous on Chinese social media (“people are really surprised I understand this stuff‘”), earning him the ‘King of Knowing’ nickname.

Trump’s nickname explained by Global Times.

Joe Biden got his nickname for dozing off during a speech and for an edited (fake) video that went viral in which Biden was seemingly falling asleep during a live interview.

But the Democrat has more nicknames on Chinese social media, including ‘Grandpa Bai’ (Bài yéyé 拜爷爷), or the cute ‘Dēngdēng‘ (登登).

His name in Chinese is usually written as (Bàidēng 拜登), although netizens have made up many more creative ways to write his name (拜灯, 白等, 败蹬).

Now that it has become clear that former Vice President Joe Biden has won the 2020 US presidential race, Chinese media, bloggers, and netizens are reflecting on the Biden victory with a more serious tone, with the phrase “the Biden era is approaching” recurringly popping up on social media.

There are many articles and posts in China’s online media sphere that focus on Biden’s journey to the presidency, including how he faced family and personal tragedy during his political career.

But, as noted in our previous article on Chinese discussions on Trump versus Biden, most of the online articles and posts about the outcome of the American elections focus on what the shift in power might mean for China and Chinese–U.S. relations.

Over the past few days, Chinese media outlets have posted several interviews, op-eds, and videos of Chinese experts discussing the future prospects of Sino-American relations under Biden. We have selected some of these that have become popular on Weibo or news app Toutiao.

 

Hu Xijin: “The shift of American leadership has no intrinsic meaning for Sino-American relations.”

 

“Is anyone under the illusion that Biden’s rise to power will lead to a major U.S.-China détente? I’m certainly not. And neither is anyone in my circles, whether they’re journalists, academics, or officials.”

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the editor-in-chief of the Global Times – a daily newspaper under the auspices of Party news outlet People’s Daily -, has over 23 million fans on his Weibo account. He frequently posts lengthy texts about his views on current news developments, both on Chinese social media as on Twitter (@HuXijin_GT). (For more about Hu Xijin, also check out this SupChina article.)

On November 9, Hu posted about the Biden win, writing:

Along with China’s further development, America’s strategic precautions against China will only get heavier. China only needs its own continuously growing strength to draw a baseline for the United States in its relations with China. The shift of American leadership has no intrinsic meaning for Sino-American relations. I reckon this already is the general consensus of China’s mainstream society.”

This view, that it does not really matter whether Biden or Trump leads the U.S. for the next four years, was also reiterated in a recent blog post published by Global Times in which the author wrote: “Regardless if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans, both hold a negative stance when it comes to the China issue. (..) No matter who comes to power in the future, there is a high probability that they will continue to suppress China.”

In his November 9 post, Hu Xijin stressed that the outcome of the American elections is not of great significance for the status-quo of Sino-American relations, but he did add that Biden’s win might possibly positively affect the irregular patterns of current Sino-American relations. The political mistrust and power games that took place under the Trump presidency might make way for a period of U.S.-China relations that is less tense.

One of the most popular comments in response to Hu’s post basically summarized Hu’s message, writing: “America’s goal is to suppress China. The leaders might be different, the methods might not be the same, but the goal remains unchanged.”

 

Prof. Shen Yi: “It’s all for the betterment of the US – not for China.”

 

Shen Yi (沈逸) is the Associate Professor of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. On Weibo, he has over 927,000 fans.

On November 10, Shen commented on Biden’s win through a video that was published on Chinese social media by The Observer (观察者).

Shen’s view is somewhat different than that of Hu. Instead of arguing that it does not matter whether Biden or Trump takes office, Shen argues that Chinese people should not mistake foreign politicians for friends, and remember that U.S.-China relations are all about power politics. Even though Chinese netizens sometimes warm up to American leaders like ‘Grandpa Bai’ (拜爷爷), and jokingly make them part of their daily discussions, their views of them should be more serious.

Shen says: “When the American media announced Biden’s victory, there were even some people in China who ‘shed tears of gratitude’, thinking that Sino-American relations will now get back on track.” But Shen gives a warning to those who sighed with relief about Biden’s win, saying: “You should not forget that Biden is a politician. He is an American politician. (..) He is not a Chinese leader.”

Shen suggests that even if Biden would relax some of the tougher China policies after he takes office, for example regarding trade or technology, he would only do so for the betterment of the U.S., not because it would help China. Trump put ‘America first’, but so will future U.S. leaders: “It’s all for themselves.”

Shen mentions that Chinese people should draw a lesson from China’s position during the Korean War and its ‘Resist America, Aid North Korea’ campaign, when China fought on Korean soil to counter ‘American aggression.’ In the worst-case scenario, he argues, China would again firmly stand ground against U.S. powers: “To combat American hegemony, we can only respond with the only language they can understand.”

 

Prof. Yao Yang: “It’s impossible to go back to how U.S.-China relations used to be.”

 

“During Trump’s four years in office, he’s established a political heritage that can’t be immediately erased – including the worsened relations between the U.S. and China. If Biden takes power, will there be a shift in Sino-American relations?”

Yao Yang (姚洋) is the dean and professor at the National School of Development of Peking University. He previously also taught at the University of Washington and New York.

In a recent op-ed for Beijing News, the professor writes that in these initial discussions of what Biden’s office might mean for the future of the relations between Beijing and Washington, it must first be acknowledged that Chinese-U.S. relations will never go back to how they used to be.

Whereas Hu took a stance from the perspective of the people, and Shen discussed the upcoming Biden era from the stance of international power relations, Yang approaches the subject through a more historical lens.

Yang argues that the tensions between China and the U.S. did not start with Trump. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” strategy, which tried to peacefully contain China’s ambitions, disrupted the general tranquility that existed before 2008. “China started to be seen as a rival,” Yang writes, adding that this idea of the U.S. and China being geopolitical competitors was continued under Trump and is expected to remain the same under Biden.

Looking back at half a century of U.S.-China relations, Yang claims that the friendly relations between the two countries in the 1970s and 1980s were because of the changing relations with the Soviet-Union and that the U.S. policy of engagement with China from the 1990s to 2010 was based on the hope that China would become more like the United States.

When, around 2010, it became clear to the U.S. elite and leadership that China was not going to be Americanized and that the Chinese path to development was actually successful, the response was one of resentment. Yang asserts that the China policies during the four years under Trump show this angry response towards a China that has taken a different route than America had hoped for during the decades preceding 2010.

Does this mean that nothing will change for U.S.-China relations under Biden? Not necessarily so. Although the two countries will remain to have a competitive relationship, Yang does expect China and the U.S. to have more peaceful relations under the administration of Biden, which will shift away from Trump’s “Cold War mentality” towards China.

 

Zheng Yongnian: “Biden’s China Policy will be much more predictable.”

 

An interview with Chinese political scientist and political commentator Zheng Yongnian (郑永年) was posted by 21st Century Business Herald (21世纪经济报道) on November 11, focusing on American politics and Biden.

Zheng holds similar views on the upcoming Biden era as the other commentators mentioned in this article, namely that the general state of China-US relations will not be drastically changed when Biden comes to power.

Zheng does stress, however, that Biden’s win might have a positive impact on the international community at large, bringing more rationality and an intention to cooperate. In that regard, the Biden era will probably be more similar to the Obama presidency, Zheng says.

Although no major changes are expected under Biden when it comes to U.S.-China relations, Zheng does assert that Biden’s win is positive for Chinese leadership because this president will be much more predictable than Donald Trump.

“Biden’s foreign policy will probably be a basic continuation of the Obama era. So of course there will be some change in Sino-American relations. There’s no fear of hard-line [policies], there are mainly worries about unpredictability. Trump would constantly create these black swans, there’s just no way to predict it. The predictability of the Biden team will be stronger than that of Trump.”

More from What’s on Weibo on China–United States relations here.

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.

©2020 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.

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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.

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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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