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China's Social Web Late to Vietnam Dispute Thanks to Censors

Location of  the Paracels. Screen capture from Google map.

Location of the Paracels. Screen capture from Google Maps.

Mainland Chinese and Vietnamese ships have reportedly collided various times over the last two weeks in a disputed section of the South China Sea where China is attempting to build an oil rig despite Vietnam's objections. 

Below is a video taken from the Vietnam side of a collision.

The hostility boiled over May 14, 2014 in Vietnam when anti-Chinese protesters looted and set fire to foreign factories they believed were Chinese, though many were Taiwanese or South Korean. At least 21 were killed and nearly 100 injured. Scores of Chinese nationals fled to neighboring Cambodia or to other countries in the region. 

Throughout the conflict, China has been firm in declaring its sovereignty over the Paracels Islands to the international media.

But what did Chinese people think? As the blogger from “South Sea Conversations” pointed out, online discussion over the oil rig dispute was missing in China, where censorship is a fact of life. Moreover, even after Chinese enterprises in Vietnam were attacked by Vietnamese protesters, propaganda authorities continued sending instructions to local media forbidding them to report on the news.

The instruction was lifted after it was leaked. But online discussion was still closely moderated by Chinese web censors. Many Chinese netizens have complained that their comments were deleted very quickly on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.

In the comments that weren't scrubbed, some users invoked aggressive nationalism, while many others called for reflection. The comments below are selected from one of the most popular news threads on Weibo about the violent protest in Vietnam.

Some typical nationalistic remarks:


pyzlb: The scene is so heartbreaking. The incident has happened for how many days? China, when will you not be bullied?!


You Guan: I have visited Vietnam many times. The country is a white wolf. Down to the bone, they are anti-Chinese. We should cut trade and investment there. Don't travel to Vietnam anymore. Our government needs to be harder and come up with concrete policy.


“Empty Bell”: Take this opportunity to take over Vietnam and rebuild our An Nam province. Let An Nam province be welcomed back into the Chinese nation.


“High Rocky Mountain”: If China doesn't send troosp to crack down [on the violent protests], this will turn into another tragedy like the Indonesian Massacre! [referring to May 1998 anti-Chinese riots in major cities in Indonesia]. Geographically speaking, Vietnam is in a strategic location. Good to take it back and see who dares to oppose.

There were some more measured comments as well:


Jiu Yuan: We have to reflect upon this. What have Chinese people done to elicit such a strong reaction?


Granny Kangaroo: Chinese people keep saying that the Vietnamese are barbaric in the destruction of Chinese-owned facilities in Vietnam. But one year ago, Chinese people also crushed Japanese-manufactured goods. Those Japanese cars were bought by Chinese people with their sweat and blood. The burned Japanese goods were wholesaled by Chinese companies. Such behaviors are so stupid.


“Riding donkey on Chang An Street”: The government officials are corrupt and people are angry. Other countries are boycotting [China]. Good brothers [China and Vietnam] back then now have turned against each other, the next one would be North Korea…


“Grassroots reporter Chen Xiaosheng”: For those who live inside the Great Firewall will not know the truth. I don't think the Vietnamese can stir up such a big storm without wind [meaning China's aggressive move in the South China Sea].


“Qi Huan King”: how come we have so many enemies?

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