Chinese officials have been engaging in an aggressive â€œWolf Warriorâ€ style of diplomacy in recent months, and this aggressive mindset has now spread to Chinaâ€™s internet, with online commentators lashing out at the United States and posting images of a simulated Chinese invasion of the self-governing island of Taiwan.
“Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, named after a 2017 action blockbuster movie that brimmed with jingoism and set box-office records in China, features Beijing envoys taking to Twitter to insult their host countries or threaten trade war against governments that criticize China.
A popular WeChat account called Zhidao Xuegong, or Scholarly Hall of the Ultimate Truth, was shut down by government censors last month after spreading misinformation and dozens of rumors deemed to have spread an online culture of â€œanti-intellectualism.â€
On May 20, the day that Taiwanâ€™s Tsai Ing-wen was sworn into office to begin her second term as president, the Chinese military magazine Naval and Merchant Ships uploaded on an 11-minute video titled â€œ2020 Taiwan Strait Combat Drill,â€ boasting that the island could be taken by Beijing within 24 hours.
The video simulation of the Chinese takeover begins at 4:00 a.m. with missile attacks targeting Taiwanâ€™s missile bases and blanketing airports in order to control the airspace in the Taiwan Strait. A strike group led by the aircraft carrier Liaoning follows soon after. At 1:00 p.m., Chinese troops depart from Fuzhou in Fujian province.
They arrive offshore of Taipei by 5:00 and land in force when the tides change in order to accomplish their mission of â€œliberatingâ€ Taiwan.
And on May 21, an account holder on the social media platform Weibo called Wild Gray Bear shared an album of 18 photographs depicting an armed takeover of the island. Titled â€œUnification by Force,â€ the album is described as â€œa special project produced by students of the Military Aficionados Club at the Sichuan Art Institute to express our disdain for those who support Taiwan independence.â€
Whether prepared as propaganda or as an effort to destroy morale in Taiwan, these images of landings by Chinese troops have gone too far, says Chen Kuo-ming, a Taiwanese military expert and senior editor of the magazine Defense International.
Small smear campaign victories
In the face of such hostility from the Chinese public and even from academics, â€œyou canâ€™t blame the Taiwanese people for seeking independence,â€ Chen said.
â€œThere are 1.4 billion people in mainland China, while there are only 23 million people in Taiwan,â€ Chen said. â€œItâ€™s very easy for those â€˜keyboard commentatorsâ€™ who hide behind their computer screens to â€˜Likeâ€™ a post or to comment â€˜+1â€™ on a post, so when it comes to the total number of â€˜likesâ€™ a post can get, we are always outnumbered.â€
â€œThis has something to do with the so-called â€˜Wolf Warriorâ€™ diplomacy that China has been engaging in recently,â€ he added. â€œThey have been very aggressive globally.â€
Chen suggested looking at these events from a different perspective.
As people on the other side of the Taiwan Strait canâ€™t freely discuss how U.S. troops might take down Beijing, the Taiwanese people might as well take it easy and let the Chinese enjoy themselves talking about how they might take down Taiwan.
Let them enjoy some freedom of speech to express their views, he said.
Meanwhile, how the Chinese people engage in online debates, and how they achieve gratification by winning small victories in smear campaigns and by belittling others, baffles observers outside the country.
In April, the widely popular Zhidao Xuegong WeChat account ranked number one in the â€œoriginal postsâ€ category of the Xigua Index, an index tracking the influence of WeChat public accounts, averaging more than 1.7 million page views during the month.
â€˜No rumors too wild to spreadâ€˜
An article by Yu Gui writing on qq.com has collected some of Zhidao Xuegongâ€™s more outrageous articles, with the author commenting, â€œIn my opinion, the principle of this account is that â€˜there are no rumors too wild to spread; there are only rumors that you fail to think of.â€™â€
In one recent post titled â€œAlmost Dead: the Sinking of the United States,â€ Zhidao Xuegong claimed that the United States has been overwhelmed by the number of its citizens dying from COVID-19, and that as a result, â€œthe U.S. has processed the bodies into frozen meat, human burger patties, and human hotdogs.â€
And in another post, the account claimed that as Chinaâ€™s time zone is one day ahead of that of the U.S., a guided missile launched by China on Jan. 10 can strike America on Jan. 9, U.S. time. â€œThere is no way that the United States is able to defend itself against such attacks across time and space,â€ the account goes on to say.
Many similar posts by Zhidao Xuegong go far beyond common sense, and the account was shut down on May 25.
Speaking one day later to RFA, Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia said he is now under house arrest and canâ€™t break through Chinaâ€™s Great Firewall on the internet, but has seen many postings on Chinaâ€™s own internet smearing the United States.
Itâ€™s amazing not only that someone would fabricate such stories which have garnered so many views, but that so many people would really believe them, Hu Jia said.
â€œThey are the â€˜adult babies,â€™ or â€˜brainwashed babiesâ€™ that exist under communist rule,â€ he said. â€œThey are the freak products created by a process of constant brainwashing and the gradual formation of very narrow perspectives.â€
â€œThey can invent all kinds of farfetched nationalist rumors, absorb them, and then spread them,â€ he said.
Many of these posts include the comment â€œShare if you are Chinese,â€ and are eventually shared across many different chat groups, Hu Jia said. â€œIt is as if that person is trying to prove to himself or herself or to others that he or she is a patriot.â€
The true victims of the fake news created by groups like Zhidao Xuegong are not foreigners, but rather the â€œdeceived Chinese peopleâ€ and ultimately the tens of thousands of these groupsâ€™ true believers, Yu Gui said on qq.com.
Any satisfaction over the shutdown of Zhidao Xuegongâ€™s account may be short-lived, however, the author says, urging people to be on the lookout for the rise of the next â€œZhidao Xuegong.â€
Reported by RFAâ€™s Mandarin Service. Translated by Min Eu.