The federal government’s decision to abandon the Victoria’s Belt and Road (BRI) agreement has apparently struck a nerve in China – or at least in Beijing – with a hashtag on the Weibo social network that has been viewed by over 260 million people. time.
The Chinese state is believed to have an inordinate influence over Weibo
Most of the popular posts under the hashtag came from state media accounts and the Central Communist Youth League.
The reaction from Chinese-Australian businesses and community groups has been mixed
While much of the social media fury has been fueled by Beijing’s propaganda apparatus, some business leaders in Australia are also saying they are disappointed with the “stupid” move.
The federal government on Wednesday used new powers to sabotage four deals Victoria had made with foreign countries: two related to the BIS and one each with the Iranian and Syrian governments.
The BRI is a vast, Chinese-funded infrastructure network stretching from Asia to Europe, including projects such as deep-water ports, pipelines, railways and airports.
Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to welcome more countries to join the vast infrastructure-building initiative, stressing that his flagship foreign relations project aims to strengthen China’s economic and diplomatic ties to the world.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, the Chinese embassy in Australia called the federal government’s actions “provocative” and “unreasonable,” warning they would harm bilateral relations.
Weibo users go wild
Meanwhile, a hashtag literally translating to “China responds to Australia tearing up Belt and Road deal” has gone viral on the Chinese social network.
“Australia has no dignity. [We] need to teach them a lesson, ”wrote Weibo user Linglingzhenyu.
“Some [countries] just don’t deserve respect, ”user Rumenghang wrote.
A third posted: “Australia is mad. Now they are determined to be America’s lackey. Where is the spirit of the contracts?”
Australian Strategy Policy Institute (ASPI) researcher Albert Zhang said the Chinese state wields disproportionate influence over Weibo, and not all of the more than 260 million views are likely to be organic.
However, he said the hashtag’s virality was driven both by China’s propaganda tools and the Chinese people’s genuine anger.
Most of the popular posts under the hashtag came from state media accounts and the Central Communist Youth League (CYL), a youth organization affiliated with the Communist Party of China whose Weibo account has more than 15 million followers. , did he declare.
Mr. Zhang said CYL has been known to coordinate internet commentators to shape online narratives.
While many of the posts that garnered high engagement came from state media, diplomats and CYL, there was also evidence of some organic nationalist sentiments, he said.
“I think the recent sort of withdrawal or cancellation of the trade deal with the Chinese government could potentially cast a negative image of the BIS deals around the world,” he said.
Snobbish BRI ‘harmful to both self and others’
Australia-China Business Council (ACBC) national chairman David Olsson said the cancellation of the Victoria BRI deal was not unexpected, either in Australia or in Beijing.
Mr Olsson said business leaders are taking a pragmatic approach.
“They prefer to look beyond BRI politics and focus on the real business opportunities that will emerge from infrastructure investments in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Victorian-era Australia-China Friendship Society vice-president Rendi Liu said he was surprised the federal government had done so.
“First of all, I think it is a stupid action because it is detrimental both to oneself and to others,” he said.
“Second, it is very similar to [the policy] during the Cultural Revolution, this political correctness was above all.
“At first I thought it was just a bluff, but now it looks like it was acted on by Canberra.”
He added that the government was putting its own domestic political interests ahead of those of the nation.
In contrast, Australian Federation for Democratic China Chin Jin said it “warmly welcomes” the decision to end the BRI deal.
“I believe the decision will help Australia defend Australian values and principles,” Chin said.
Mr. Chin said he feared the federal government “hesitates” to take action against Chinese government interference, but the decision reassured him.
As the two governments continue to face issues such as the coronavirus investigation, Huawei, alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, and wine and meat exports, Mr. Zhang said that this pattern on Chinese social media was likely to continue.
“These type of viral messages are probably more likely to occur in the future, as Chinese nationalist citizens feel more empowered to portray China in a more positive light, as well as reduce negative portrayals of the Chinese government and its policies, ”he said.
Additional reporting by Bang Xiao