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The Weibo Battlefield in the US-Iran Conflict: Iranian and American Embassies ‘Argue’ on Chinese Social Media

The US-Iran conflict has extended to Weibo, where Chinese netizens watch the online ‘battle’ unfold.

Manya Koetse

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“Don’t know if you all have discovered it yet, but the Iranian Embassy in China and the American Embassy in China have started to fight on Weibo,” prominent Chinese media outlet 21st Century Business Herald (21世纪经济报道) writes on Weibo on January 10th.

The Iranian and American embassies have been all the talk on Chinese social media this week. While US-Iran tensions are dominating international media headlines, the embassies of Iran and US have been taking their conflict to the Chinese social media platform.

Ever since January 3rd, when the head of Iran’s Quds Force Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike in Iraq, the Beijing embassies of both the USA and Iran have engaged in an online argument over the conflict between their two countries.

The Iranian Embassy (@伊朗驻华大使馆), that has 254670 followers on its Weibo account, condemned the assassination of Soleimani on January 3rd by reposting and translating a Twitter post by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, calling it a “dangerous and foolish” act of “international terrorism.”

That post received over 23,000 likes and thousands of comments, with many of them showing support for Iran.

The US Embassy Weibo account (@美国驻华大使馆), that has over 2,5 million followers, also posted a response to the attack on January 4 by translating several quotes by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserting that the decision to kill Soleimani was the right one and that it made the world a safer place.

Although many of the thousands of netizens responding to the American Embassy’s post praised the attack, there was also a lot of criticism.

“The terrorist group ‘USA’ has claimed responsibility for this act of terrorism,” one popular comment said, with others also pointing the finger at the American government for behaving as ‘terrorists.’

With the deepening of the US-Iran crisis after the Iranian military launched missiles against US bases in Iraq earlier this week, the Weibo posts and comments just keep coming in.

On January 8, the Iranian Embassy wrote that the “end of malign US presence in West Asia has begun,” a sentence also posted on Twitter by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

In between some light-footed Weibo posts about the Golden Globes, the American Embassy published various Weibo posts explaining its stance on the situation. One post of January 7 detailed the “bloody history” of Qassem Soleimani, writing about him as a terrorist and evil man who killed hundreds of people.

The online ‘battle’ between Iran and the US has led to various hashtags, such as “The Weibo Fight of the Iranian and US Embassy of China” (#美伊驻华大使馆微博互斗#), a topic that is receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media.

The official accounts of two foreign powers’ embassies, discussing their conflict on a Chinese social media platform, in Chinese; it’s not common, and Chinese netizens talk about it while Chinese media write about it.

One sentence* has been reposted dozens of times by Weibo users over the past days: “Here’s the world’s largest imperialist country and the world’s largest theocratic republic, on a social media platform of the world’s largest socialist nation, using Standard Chinese to engage in a fierce diplomatic fight.”

“And we’re all watching and eating popcorn,” one commenter added [literal expression used is “Chī guā qúnzhòng” (吃瓜群众), online expression for “watermelon eating masses,” meaning clueless bystanders watching the situation unfold].

The Weibo battleground has seemingly also turned into a way for the embassies to win the favor of the Chinese public; the Iranian Embassy, for example, published a post on its Weibo account that invites Chinese tourists to visit Iran during the Spring Festival and pinned it to its main page to attract the attention of readers amidst the recent online upheaval.

The online presence of the US-Iran conflict shows the importance of ‘Weibo diplomacy,’ also known as ‘Weiplomacy.’ A large number of foreign embassies in China have a presence on Sina Weibo to engage with local audiences. It is a low-cost, convenient, and seemingly effective tool to promote their countries, political goals, and inform people about their latest activities.

Over the past week, it seems that the majority of Chinese netizens have sided with Iran and condemned the US. This public sentiment, however, might have more to do with the prevailing anti-American sentiments over the past year than a general pro-Iranian stance.

In a 2016 overview of most popular foreign embassies on Weibo, the US embassy scored a number three position with its 1+ million followers, while the Iranian account only came in at number 39 with a mere 6000+ fans on its account.

Although it is unusual for foreign embassies to use Weibo as an online battleground for their offline conflicts, it is not the first time it has happened. In 2014, What’s on Weibo reported how the Beijing embassies of Russia and Poland also argued on Weibo during the aftermath of MH17 crash.

This time around, some netizens conclude that the only one to really ‘win’ in online conflicts such as these is the Weibo platform itself. As the Weibo posts keep going, the ‘melon eating masses’ keep coming. “The Sina Weibo company must be secretly laughing at this ordeal,” one person writes.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
Follow @whatsonweibo

* Chinese sentence: “世界上最大的帝国主义国家,跟世界上最大的政教合一的神权共和国,在世界上最大的社会主义国家的网络平台上,使用标准的汉语进行激烈的外交缠斗”

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 Media

Iran “Unintentionally” Shot Down Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752

Despite the overall condemnation of Iran, there are also many pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Manya Koetse

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First published

Shortly after Iran’s military announced on Saturday that it shot down Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers on board, the topic has become the number one trending hashtag on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

In a statement by the military, Iran admitted that the Boeing 737 was flying “close to a sensitive military site” when it was “mistaken for a threat” and taken down with two missiles.

Among the passengers were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals.

Earlier this week, Iranian authorities denied that the crash of the Ukrainian jetliner in Tehran was caused by an Iranian missile.

The conflict between US and Iran has been a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media, also because the embassies of both countries have been openly fighting about the issue on Weibo.

Although many Chinese netizens seemed to enjoy the political spectacle on Weibo over the past few days, with anti-American sentiments flaring up and memes making their rounds, today’s news about the Iranian role in the Ukrainian passenger plane crash is condemned by thousands of commenters.

“Iran is shameless!”, one popular comment says. “This is the outcome of a battle between two terrorists!”

“Regular people are paying the price for these political games,” others write: “So many lives lost, this is the terror of war.”

The Iranian Embassy in China also posted a translated statement by President Hassan Rouhani on its Weibo account, saying the missiles were fired “due to human error.”

Despite the overall condemnation, there are also many commenters pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Meanwhile, the American Embassy has not published anything about the issue on its Weibo account at time of writing.

The hashtag “Iran Admits to Unintentionally Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane” (#伊朗承认意外击落乌克兰客机#) gathered over 420 million views on Weibo by Saturday afternoon, Beijing time.

Chinese state media outlet CCTV has shared an infographic about the US-Iran conflict and the passenger jet news, writing they hope that these “flames of war” will never happen again.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

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China Insight

From Hong Kong Protests to ‘Bright Future’ – The Top 3 Most Popular Posts on Weibo This Week

These are the most-read posts on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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The three most-read posts on Weibo over the past week – an overview by What’s on Weibo.

The protests in Hong Kong have been dominating Chinese social media throughout August, and the past week has been no different. Two out of three most-read posts on Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, were about Hong Kong this week.

A wrap-up:

 

#1 Hundreds of Hong Kong Taxi’s Flying Chinese National Flag

Image shared by CCTV on their Weibo account.

While Hong Kong is gearing up for the 13th consecutive weekend of mass anti-government demonstrations, there are no signs of the protests fizzling out any time soon.

The Hong Kong protests started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China, and have intensified over the past weeks.

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic, the Hong Kong demonstrations have been dominating the trending streams on China’s popular social media platforms for all of August.

Through videos, online posters, and slogans, Chinese state media have propagated a clear narrative on the situation in Hong Kong; namely that a group of “separatists” or “bandits” are to blame for the riots that aim to “damage public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

News outlets such as People’s Daily and CCTV are sharing many stories that emphasize the One China principle and praise the Hong Kong police force. Those voices in Hong Kong speaking up for the police force and condemning protesters using violence have been amplified in Chinese media.

One story that became the number one trending post on Weibo this week is that of dozens of Hong Kong taxi drivers hanging the Chinese national flag from their cars (video).

On August 23, the taxi drivers reportedly formed a rally against violence at Tsim Sha Tsui, waving the flags and putting up signs saying “I love HK, I love China.”

The hashtag “500 Hong Kong Taxi’s Hanging up Chinese National Flags” (#香港500辆的士挂上国旗#), hosted by CCTV, attracted over 700 million views on Weibo. The CCTV post reporting on the event received over half a million likes and 47000 shares.

The commenters mostly praise the Hong Kong taxi drivers for “standing up for Hong Kong” and flying the Chinese flag.

In English-language media, it has mostly been Chinese state media reporting on the rally. Xinhua, Women of China, ECNS, and Global Times all reported on the August 23 peace rally.

CNN only shortly reported how “a number of taxis have been spotted driving around the city displaying Chinese flags — something that has not happened on this scale during previous protests” (link).

 

#2 ‘Bright Future’ Title Song for Upcoming Movie ‘The Moon Remembers All’

Over 266.000 Weibo users have been sharing a post by Chinese actor Li Xian (李现) on the title track for the new Chinese movie The Moon Remembers All or River on a Spring Night (Chinese title: 春江花月夜).

The upcoming movie itself is a very popular topic on Weibo recently, attracting 430 million views on its hashtag page alone. The movie just finished shooting and will be released in 2020.

The song titled “Bright Future” (前程似锦) is sung by Taiwanese singer Chen Linong (陈立农) and Li Xian, who are both the leading actors in the fantasy movie. The song was released on August 29.

The Moon Remembers All is produced by Edko Films and directed by Song Haolin (宋灏霖), also known for Mr. Zhu’s Summer (2017) and Fatal Love (2016).

 

#3 Interview with Hong Kong Pro-Beijing LegCo Member Junius Ho

The third most popular Weibo post of this week comes from Xia Kedao (侠客岛), a popular commentator account for the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, and concerns a live broadcasted interview with Hong Kong lawmaker and Legislative Council (LegCo) member Junius Kwan-yiu Ho.

Junius Ho (何君尧) is known as being ‘pro-Beijing’ and stirred controversy earlier this summer when a viral video showed him shaking hands with men wearing white T-shirts who allegedly were linked to the mob attacking people at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.

Xia Kedao describes Junius Ho as a “straightforward” politician who “speaks out for justice” and denounces “reactionaries.”

In the August 28 interview, that was live-streamed on Sina Weibo and later also written up, the Hong Kong legislator discussed the background of the protests.

Ho argues that the people with “ulterior motives” used the extradition bill for their own power struggle, distorting and exaggerating the facts behind the regulation.

The politician also partly links the protests to a “weak national consciousness” in Hong Kong due to its education curriculum and says that there have not been enough legal consequences for those participating in illegal activities and riots.

Thousands of commenters on Weibo write that they appreciate Ho for speaking out against the “pro-independence riot youth” and praise him for his “deep understanding” of mainland China.

By now, Junius Ho, who is also active on Weibo with his own account, has gathered more than half a million fans on his page.

By Manya Koetse

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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