After South China Sea Ruling, China Censors Online Calls for War

After South China Sea Ruling, China Censors Online Calls for War

By BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN / July 12, 2016 / ForeignPolicy

July 12 was a dark day for fervent Chinese nationalists. An international court based in the Hague issued a long-awaited ruling, rejecting many of China’s territorial claims in the hotly contested South China Sea, where China has clashed with the Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries over land features and fishing rights. After the tribunal announced its judgment at 5 pm Beijing time, declaring that China’s historical claims in the region have no legal basis, a massive wave of anger erupted across Chinese social media, where grassroots nationalism flourishes. But to the ruling Communist Party, such sentiment is a double-edged sword: official censors moved quickly to curtail online discussion that seemed to overstep the bounds of acceptable nationalist discourse.

thediplomat_2015-07-17_15-04-41-553x360Within hours of the announcement, “South China Sea arbitration” wastrending on Weibo, China’s heavily filtered Twitter-like microblogging platform, and hundreds of thousands of comments poured in. Many expressed anger at the ruling itself, at the United States — China’s perceived great power rival in the South China Sea — and the Philippines, which filed the case against China in 2013. One user described the tribunal’s decision as “waste paper and nothing else,” echoing former Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo’s comments at an event in D.C., the week before the ruling; Beijing has repeatedly stated that it will not accept or implement the arbitration. “Struggle for every inch of land,” wrote another, echoing a phrase widely repeated online in the aftermath of the ruling. Another user called for a boycott of the iPhone 7, presumably because it is the product of Apple, a U.S. company.

Other comments expressed anger towards the Philippines. The tribunal did not rule on the sovereignty of land features in the sea, but rather that land features such as reefs and atolls in the Spratlys, near the Philippines, are not large enough to merit their own 220-mile exclusive economic zone. The court also ruled that China had illegally blocked Filipino fishing boats from fishing around the Spratlys. “Does Philippines Island want to become Philippines Province?” challenged one Weibo commenter, who also included an emoticon of a fist punching in the air. “Those who sell bananas should keep selling bananas, don’t keep concerning yourselves with my fish,” wrote one Weibo user in a comment, referring to the common Filipino export to China, which garnered more than 35,000 likes. “Bringing the United States with you won’t work.”

Similar discussion dominated other online platforms. One article called “War in the South China Sea Starts Tonight” received more than 100,000 views on mobile messaging platform WeChat; similar articles were widely shared as well. One popular meme on both Weibo and WeChat showed a map of China with the distinctive Nine Dash Line dipping below it; a slogan beneath the image read, “China: We can’t lose even one dot.” Read more…

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