Category Archives: Media

Peng Shuai: Not So Black And White But Red All Over

Front page of French sports newspaper L'Equipe with its February 2022 interview with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.

THE ENDGAME OF the Peng Shaui affair is slowly playing out.

China’s tennis star has again denied that she was sexually assaulted three years ago by former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, this time to the French sports newspaper, L’Equipe.

It was her first interview with non-Chinese state media since she made the explosive accusation against Zhang, with whom she has admitted having an on-off relationship for more than a decade.

Her 1,500-character Weibo post on November 2 was deleted within 30 minutes of going up, and the censors disappeared Peng’s online presence. She also dropped from public view, inducing international concern from fellow tennis professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association.

L’Equipe’s interview was conducted under the watchful eye of the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) on the 16th floor of the luxury Beijing hotel that the committee is using as its headquarters for the Beijing Winter Olympics. The newspaper was required to pre-submit its questions to the COC and agree to print Peng’s answers without commentary.

Peng showed up wearing a tracksuit top of the Chinese Olympic ice hockey team and spoke in Chinese (although she has used English at tennis event press conferences in the past). Her answers were translated into English by the COC official who accompanied her, although it seems that L’Equipe had a translator in Paris listening in.

The interview lasted for almost twice its allotted 30 minutes. L’Equipe says it was not prevented from asking questions it had not submitted.

The published transcript shows Peng giving terse and often repetitive answers to any question about the case. The newspaper says she appeared tense at the start of the interview, crossing her arms across her chest and reverting to that posture whenever asked about her post and subsequent treatment.

A PR professional would have praised her for ‘staying on message’, getting her talking points out, and avoiding direct answers to the most awkward questions, including about the role of authorities.

So what can be read between these very few lines?

To this Bystander, the critical point is her twice repeated assertion that no sexual assault had occurred.

Authorities can now claim there is nothing to investigate. An enquiry into an alleged sexual assault by a former senior official would be complicated for a socially conservative and somewhat prudish top leadership. Senior party cadres are not supposed to have extra-marital affairs. Making a public example of Zhang would be doubly tricky. Although retired from public politics since 2018, he was in the Xi orbit.

There was never any intention of pursuing such an investigation. Nor to give any oxygen to China’s fledgling #MeToo movement, which the leadership has sought to suppress, as it does with all identity politics.

Peng professed that there had been a ‘huge misunderstanding’ over her post, claimed she had never said she had been sexually assaulted and that she did not want the post ‘twisted’ anymore or any more media hype around it.

However, she did not explain to L’Equipe what that misunderstanding was or why the original post had explicitly stated that she had been forced into having sex with Zhang. L’Equipe’s questioning did not pursue the point.

Similarly, there was no follow-up when Peng responded to a question about why the post was deleted within 30 minutes with, ‘Because I wanted to’. Her statement that she deleted the post was also at odds with what she hinted in her first post-disappearance email: malicious actors had posted it, not her.

Peng also reasserted that she had not disappeared. She was, she said, in touch with close friends but had had too many international messages and emails to reply to them.

Her other answer that caught this Bystander’s attention for its resonance with the party line was:

My love life problems, my personal life must not be mingled with sports and politics. And sports must not be politicised.

Peng indicated that she would retire from competitive professional tennis. At 36 and with failing knees, she would probably be coming to the end of her career as an elite player. Yet the timing is convenient on many fronts. She will not be touring the world and at risk of endless questions about the case. Instead, she can return to public circulation within China, where she is an iconic figure, as a loyal if chastened domestic ambassador for Chinese sport.

There is scant internal political cost to authorities to that; her allegations and the international campaign for their investigation have been censored from China’s public discourse.

Externally, authorities will ride out the continuing scepticism about her repudiations but rely on time to fade the event from memory and concern from front of mind.

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Stand News Stands Down

FOR MONTHS, IT has seemed a matter of when not if Stand News, one of the last remaining openly pro-democracy media outlets in Hong Kong, got closed down. The when is now, following police raids, the arrest of current and former top editors and the freezing of its assets.

Six from Stand News were arrested on December 29 to face charges of ‘conspiracy to publish seditious publications’. They include the former and acting chief editors of Stand News, Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, and board members singer and activist Denise Ho and former Legco member Margaret Ng.

Ronson Chan,  Stand’s deputy assignment editor and also chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was detained for questioning.

Six months ago, Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper shut down following similar action by authorities. On December 28, Lai, who is already in prison following convictions on multiple charges in connection with his support of the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations, and six former senior employees of Apple Daily were charged with seditious publication.

As if it needed chilling any further given the crackdown on dissent in the city, the climate for independent journalism in Hong Kong and any criticism of government locally or in Beijing has become numbing.

Steven Butler, Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the Stand News arrests were ‘an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom’.

Update: Another independent outlet, Citizen News, has also announced it has shut down, with its chief writer, Chris Yeung, saying it could no longer gauge where the legal boundaries lay.

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What Is Game, Set And Match for Peng Shuai?

THE INTERNATIONAL CONCERN about the fete of tennis star Peng Shuai shows little sign of abating.

An announcement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that its president Thomas Bach, the chair of its Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho, and the IOC Member in China, Li Lingwei, had had a 30-minute video call with Peng on Sunday in which she said she was safe and well at home but would like ‘to have her privacy respected at this time’ has been met with further questions.

The IOC has not made the recording of the call available. There is no indication of whether Bach addressed the critical question of the allegation at the centre of the case, that Peng had said she had been sexually assaulted three years ago by former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.

With the Winter Olympics due to start in Beijing in February, and the possibility of a Western diplomatic boycott in the wind, the IOC would have little interest in rocking the boat, even in the unlikely event it had any desire to.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which has from the outset called for a full investigation of the allegations and threatened to withdraw its tournaments from China, said the call between Peng and the IOC did not address whether Peng was free to speak without coercion or censorship.

It raised the same concerns after two other videos were posted to the Twitter accounts of state media. Both purport to show Peng, in a Beijing restaurant and at a tennis event for teenagers, over the weekend. There is even greater scepticism over an email in which Peng says she did not make the allegation contained in a lengthy post to her Weibo account on November 2.

Peng’s international celebrity and international tennis stars’ reaction complicate Beijing’s handling of the case.

The standard playbook for regime critics is disappearance from public view and rectification during anything that can range from being confined to quarters to detention in a black jail until sufficient time has passed for a contrite reappearance in public or court. If the latter, prison or death invariably follow.

The playbook does not fully apply to Peng’s case. She is not a regime critic but has alleged sexual assault by a former senior official. That is doubly complicated for a socially conservative and somewhat prudish top leadership. Senior party cadres are not supposed to have extra-marital affairs; such allocations are often included on the charge sheet in anti-corruption cases against officials.

Zhang, at 75, is retired from office in 2018 and has withdrawn from public politics, old school, but was in the Xi orbit. That makes throwing him under the bus difficult, in the unlikely event top leadership would want to. It will have no intent to give any oxygen to China’s fledgling #MeToo movement, which it has sought to suppress, as it does with all identity politics.

Nor is the case of other internationally renowned figures like Jack Ma strictly analogous. Ma, too, dropped out of sight after criticising financial regulators for standing in the way of innovation and for generally getting too big for his boots just at a time when the official mood was swinging against tech moguls.

However, while international concern was expressed initially, high-profile US and European chief executives were not calling for a full accounting of his circumstances in the way US and European tennis stars are for Peng. Nor were US and European business associations threatening to pull out of China.

Tennis players do not have the business operations in China to be retaliated against that multinational corporations do. Nor do they, or an organiser of tournaments such as the WTA, have the scale of sponsorship, merchandising and broadcasting revenues at risk of a team sport with leagues like football or basketball.

To this Bystander, there were echoes of Ma’s first ‘reappearance video’ –the subdued tone and lack of emotion in his speech — in the first video of Peng posted after her initial disappearance. However, she had to travel no farther than a Beijing restaurant, unlike Ma, who was driven hours into the countryside to a remote rural school to reflect for the cameras that it was time to devote himself to education and public welfare.

Ma has accepted he has to lay low. The scuttling of his blockbuster Ant Group IPO was signal punishment and indication of what could happen to the rest of his fortune if he did not.

Ma was also coming towards the end of his business career. Peng is not nor in Ma’s league of wealth or global influence. She could return, chastened, to public circulation with little internal political cost; her allegations and the international campaign for their investigation have been censored from China’s public discourse.

Assuming her allegations will not be dealt with substantively, making them go away outside China is challenging but not impossible. It would be incredible if Peng repudiated them herself. More likely is the emergence of a narrative of a hacking of her Weibo account by a malicious actor (as the first post-disappearance email that she allegedly sent hinted). Authorities would ride out the initial scepticism and then rely on time to fade the event from memory.

Peng would have to go along with this, but it would be a relatively small cost for her to pay compared to the alternatives.

This Bystander suspects the wily perpetrator will never be brought to book but the finger of blame will point abroad.

Update: The wolves are finally stirring. After days of brushing aside questions about Peng, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday:.

I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise this issue.

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Love All

EARLIER THIS MONTH, the tennis star Peng Shuai posted on her Weibo account an accusation that three years ago she had been sexually assaulted by former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, a man with whom she had had an on-off relationship for more than a decade.

Her 1,500-character post quickly disappeared, as, seemingly, did Peng.

Questions were raised by prominent figures in world tennis about Peng’s silence, whereabouts and safety.

Now China Global Television News, the international subsidiary of state-broadcaster CCTV, has posted on social media a screenshot of an email sent purportedly by Peng to Steve Simon, head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which says in effect, it is all fake news; that the accusation is not true, that she never made it, and that she is just resting at home.

Simon does not believe a word of it. In a statement released by the WTA, he said:

The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.

I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.

Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.

The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.

The WTA’s strong stance stands in contrast to the United States’ National Basketball Association and England’s Premier League, which put their commercial interests first when their officials or players spoke out about abuses in China to the displeasure of authorities.

Before the Covid-19 disruption, the WTA staged some ten tournaments a year in China and has significant Chinese corporate sponsors. That is hard cash on the line in publically challenging China’s version of events. However, sexual assault is a less abstract issue to its domestic audience than the Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues that embroiled the NBA and Premier League. The WTA’s reputational calculation may look a lot different.

The commercial calculus for teams/leagues sports like basketball and football is different from those for an individual/tournament sport like tennis.

There is much to all this that looks familiar: the dropping out of sight; the censorious sweeping clean of social media and online searches of all mentions; the confession or repudiation fabricated or written under duress along with a profession that all is well and it is a case of those wishing ill to China making mischief.

Yet other factors muddy the well-thumbed playbook. The protagonists are both unusually prominent. Zhang is not an official who might have been expected to have a mistress half his age, but a high-ranking figure in the Party, albeit at 75, retired from office sine 2018 and dutifully out of the public spotlight. Peng is an iconic sports personality inside China and well known outside it, not a flibbertigibbet entertainer who is only a star in China, which makes her more challenging to marginalise.

Her accusation is also the first against a high-ranking political figure since the #MeToo movement took hold in China in 2018. That alone makes it categorically different from similar accusations against men in the non-profit world, academia and media,

Although it has struggled against a hostile official environment and the suppression of any form of identity politics, the #MeToo movement has touched a sufficiently raw nerve that Peng’s accusations cannot simply be silently airbrushed out of history. Nor can the movement be credibly portrayed as a foreign influence designed to constrain China’s development.

Furthermore, if a case officer in the propaganda department has misread the #MeToo movement in the United States as a further sign of US decline rather than the pivotal force that can not be ignored by US commercial entities it has become, that may prove a costly mistake.

A third complication is that China will hold the Winter Olympic Games in February. There is already talk within some Western democracies of boycotting it to protest against Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and Peng’s situation could bolster that case. The International Olympic Committee’s statement today that it is encouraged by assurances that Peng is safe is unlikely to be taken at face value by many.

This leaves authorities in a quandary. A sign of this may be that in the foreign ministry’s regular daily briefing, spokesman Zhao Lijian distanced official China from the affair, saying that it is not a foreign affairs matter and he was ‘not aware’ of Peng’s situation.

There is no official Chinese version of events yet, and the censors’ swift initial work means the story does not exist inside China. CGTV’s posting of a screenshot of the email does not change that as it used Twitter, which is blocked in China. The intended audience was abroad. probably backed by a hope that the disinformation amplification chambers of Western social media would lend it credibility.

That has not happened, but it still leaves plenty of room for official deniability of a misinformation campaign. Yet, the embarrassing silence will have to be broken at some point, once the propaganda department has worked out how.

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Freeing The Press? Up To A Point, Lord Copper

ANOTHER TOKEN OF goodwill passes between Beijing and Washington.

The two countries have agreed to ease the tit-for-tat visa restrictions on the other’s journalists that were imposed during the Trump presidency.

The United States will issue one-year multiple-entry visas for Chinese journalists and initiate a process to address the duration of stay issues. Once that has happened, China will afford equal treatment to American journalists on a one-to-one basis.

The deal was struck ahead of the video meeting between President’s Xi Jinping and Joe Biden on Tuesday morning. However, the negotiations were reportedly over a year in the making and not discussed during the Xi-Biden meeting. However, announcing the deal will burnish the feel-good factor the leaders’ summit generated.

As relations deteriorated during the late Trump years, both countries imposed limitations on journalists’ credentials, visas and durations of stay. US correspondents, who have left the country in some number, will be able to return once access for China’s state-media journalists has been restored, and those that remained to leave and return to the country.

In the spring of 2020, the US administration designated the US operations of nineIn the spring of 2020, the US administration designated the US operations of nine Chinese media as ‘foreign missions’ because Chinese media are state entities under the ultimate control of the Party’s Publicity Department.

These included Xinhua, CCTV’s subsidiary China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily and Hai Tian Development USA (distributor of the People’s Daily in the United States).

Such designation required those outlets to report their staff and property holdings to the US State Department. The Trump administration also capped the number of staff they could employ in the United States.

This led to four US media organisations — the Associated Press, United Press International, CBS and National Public Radio — being told to file with authorities details of their staff, finances, operations and property in China within seven days.

Beijing subsequently expelled several US journalists stationed in China, including those from the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In response to that, the Trump administration then reduced the renewable one-year single-entry visa permits for Chinese journalists to 90 days.

In the autumn of last year, Washington further designated six Chinese media, including Yicai Global and Jiefang Daily, as substantially owned or effectively controlled by a foreign government.

It is unclear whether the expelled US journalists will be allowed to return or if other correspondents will have to be sent. It is also unclear if the agreement will ease the restrictions on foreign journalists travelling freely and independently within China or ease the hostility shown to the non-US Western press.

The list of strain points in the bilateral relationship remains a lengthy one. However, this agreement at least removes the one item from it that could improve the mutual understanding necessary to bring relief on many of the others.

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Putting The Strong In China’s ‘Structurally Strong’ Global Narrative

Hua Chunying seen during a Foreign Ministry press breifing, October 2021, before her promotion to Assistant Foreign Minister

HUA CHUNYING WAS unstinting when it was her turn at bat as spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry’s daily press conferences at flailing even the slightest criticism of China implied by any question from foreign media to all corners of the ground with a powerful combination of steel, courtesy and certainty. 

Now she has been promoted from director of the ministry’s Information Department to assistant foreign minister, responsible for news, protocol and translation affairs. She is the only woman among the nine most senior officials below Foreign Minister Wang Yi — and the only one of the nonet born since the 1960s. 

This is a significant and early promotion for Hua, who in 2019 wrote in Study Times, the official newspaper of the Central Party School, that China’s voice in the world needed to be ‘structurally strong’, and that the government should be more aggressive in responding to criticisms and setting agendas: 

We should learn from the experience of countries around the world in constructing and arranging the right to speak, and build a discourse system with Chinese characteristics and Chinese style as soon as possible, and firmly grasp the power of interpreting China.

Adding:

We must pay attention to the changes brought by the 5G era to social governance and people’s lifestyles, actively explore and promote the in-depth development of media integration and enter overseas social media, so as to give wings to China’s moral power and ensure that Chinese discourse captures the moral high ground as soon as possible.

Her promotion suggests that will be the direction in which Beijing will continue to pursue its info-foreign policy, i.e., no diminishment of the lupine strength of China’s self-portrayal to the world.

Other senior-level changes at the ministry include the elevation of Xie Feng to deputy minister, where he will hold the policy planning and US and large regions portfolio. He returns to Beijing after four years as the ministry’s man in Hong Kong.

Deng Li has also been promoted to deputy minister but continues to hold the West Asia, North Africa, Africa and Europe briefs. Xu Feihong, director of the ministry’s services centre, has been promoted to assistant minister for administrative and financial work.

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History Lays Landmines For Marketers

TO PARAPHRASE EDMUND BURKE, the Anglo-Irish political philosopher, those who don’t know history are doomed to be fined for it.

Chinese authorities have fined Sony’s Chinese subsidiary 1 million yuan ($155,000) for announcing a product launch event for a new camera, the A7, that was to have been held on the opening day of a trade fair in Shanghai on July 7, Japan’s Nikkei reports.

The date marks the anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, generally considered to be the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

There was an immediate backlash in China when the date was first announced. The new camera’s reported marketing tagline ‘Capture More of Your World’ probably did not help. Sony apologised suitably profusely and cancelled its event.

Nonetheless, authorities have gone ahead with imposing the fine, the maximum allowed, citing violations of China’s advertising laws that forbid online advertisements from hurting the dignity or interests of the state. Authorities found that Sony had hurt the dignity of the nation.

Authorities also said they fined the Chinese unit of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics 400,000 yuan because its advertisements for two smartphone models violated laws forbidding the disrupting of social order and spurring disobedience.

Last year, the Japanese gaming giant Capcom found itself caught up in a PR whirlwind in China after using ‘918’ as the passcode for the launch of Resident Evil 3. Patriotic social media users took this as a reference to the Mukden Incident on September 18, 1931, which Imperial Japan staged and then used as a pretext for its invasion of China.

Just the previous month, Tencent had removed a popular Japanese anime and manga, My Hero Academia, from its streaming services following Chinese claims that a newly introduced character was a reference to Unit 731, the Japanese military’s biowarfare research unit during the Second World War, responsible for hundred’s of thousands of deaths.

The only safe dates for Japanese product launches in China might be August 15, the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito announcing Japan’s surrender to end the Second World War or September 2, the date of the surrender ceremony and the formal end of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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China To Exclude Private Sector From News Media And Cryptomining

THE REMOVAL OF the private sector from China’s education market was abrupt and disruptive. Doing the same to media is being handled more carefully but will likely have far more extensive ramifications.

The newly published draft by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planning agency, of its ‘negative list’ of industry sectors in which private investment, Chinese or foreign, will not be allowed, includes a broad swathe of media activities.

‘Non-public’ (ie, private) capital will not be allowed in any newsgathering, editing and broadcasting business. Nor will it be permitted in the establishment and operation of news organisations, including news agencies, newspaper publishing units and radio and television broadcasting organisations.

Private capital will also be barred from reproducing in China news content released by non-Chinese entities abroad and online live streaming events that could sway public opinion — a catch-all covering any topic.

Media would become a wholly state-owned sector.

It is unclear how existing private investment in media will be affected at this point, including media organisations that have both private and state investors. However, the new regulations are likely directed towards the big tech platforms like Weibo and WeChat that carry plenty of news.

A move in that direction was foreshadowed in the pressure applied earlier this year to the Jack Ma-founded tech giant Alibaba to divest its media holdings during the regulatory scrutiny of its fintech affiliate, Ant Group.

Authorities were concerned about Alibaba’s potential influence over public opinion, especially via social media. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post, among other media properties.

The NDRC’s proposal mentions explicitly excluding private capital from any involvement with media outlets’ social media accounts.

The new constrictions on media ownership fit a pattern of tightening control over public discourse that has ranged from showbusiness to academia, with authorities pushing to eliminate the publishing of content that violates the core values of socialism.

Overall, the proposed changes will cut the negative list by six sectors from the current 123 once approved. Some sectors would see their barriers to entry reduced.

Apart from media, the other eye-catching headline is that cryptocurrency mining will join the proscribed list. That extends the continuing crackdown on cryptocurrencies.

The seven-day public consultation is due to last until October 14.

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ByteDance IPO Reportedly Moves Ahead

BYTEDANCE, OWNER OF short video sharing app TikTok, looks set to be rewarded for toeing the Party line amidst the crackdown on tech.

The Financial Times reports that the company is likely to be allowed to go ahead with an initial public offering (IPO) of its shares in Hong Kong later this year or early next.

ByteDance had planned to go public in New York earlier this year but put those plans on hold when told by Chinese regulators to address data security concerns.

It has since been going through the review process and has submitted filings to authorities, the Financial Times reports. ByteDance is hoping that it will get clearance to proceed next month.

It has also denied that the Financial Times report, but with the sort of non-denial denial that suggests that it would not be politically expedient to do anything else.

Last month, Beijing indicated it would require a cybersecurity review of nearly all companies looking to list their share abroad.

Overseas listings have been frozen in effect to safeguard data security in the wake of ride-hailing app Didi Global’s controversial $4.4 billion IPO in New York that the company pushed forward in the face of official objections.

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Unsporting Behaviour

THE OLYMPIC GAMES and nationalism are old if not particularly attractive bedfellows.

This is not just a case of elites and masses basking in the reflected glory of exceptional individual athletic achievement by a fellow citizen.

For small nations, it offers what can be a rare opportunity to wave a flag on the international stage. For larger countries, it becomes a projection of national prowess. The United States now battles China to top the gold medals count as fiercely as it once did the old Soviet Union.

Nor is it just the Olympics that prompt these outbursts of national pride and the risk that they will spill over into something darker, especially if domestic media have unrealistically built up popular expectations in advance. Football tournaments can be just as chauvinistic.

Yet there is something about the Olympics that brings out peak jingoism everywhere. It is not for nothing that winning athletes symbolically wrap themselves in the flag.

Thus this Bystander’s eye has been caught by reports of extreme reactions on social media to some of the performances by Chinese athletes at the Tokyo games. Online nationalists have vilified failure to win anything less than a gold medal as failing the nation and unpatriotic.

The online abuse was particularly evident after Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin lost the gold medal match of the mixed doubles in table tennis to Japan’s Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani and after Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen lost to the Taiwanese pair, Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin, in the final of the badminton men’s doubles.

Losing to Japanese or Taiwanese opponents hits a particular nerve. Yet, Yang Qian, who won gold in the women’s 10-metre air rifle event, was criticised for a Weibo post last year showing her Nike shoe collection. She was slammed online for not supporting the consumer boycott of the US sports apparel maker over its stance on the alleged use of forced labour in Xinjiang’s cotton production.

Meanwhile, teammate Wang Luyao suffered the ire of some netizens for not qualifying for the final of the event.

Overall, the spitefulness got so bad that Weibo suspended the accounts of 33 users, and censors deleted some of the most hyper-nationalist posts.

Such behaviour online is far from unique to China, and bigoted trolls outshout more moderate voices everywhere. However, the reports suggest a relentlessness to the attacks driven the prevalence online of young Chinese who have grown up to the drumbeat of a substantial increase in nationalist sentiment.

As the country’s global influence has grown, the official narrative has emphasised both pride in China and its success and portrayed any international criticism as ‘bullying’ to be resisted. Dengist notions of hiding one’s strength and biding one’s time just seem redundant to that generation.

Swapping its wannabe wolf warrior cap for its consumer hat, this cohort is also more likely to favour domestic brands over foreign ones when shopping. That may also be a development cycle effect as consumers in emerging economies tend first to favour exclusive foreign brands before reaching a point of economic development at which they turn to domestic brands as a reaffirmation of their own advances.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any country expressing its national identity and patriotism, promoting its national interests and culture, or searching for prestige and international admiration. Yet, even with the ebbing tide of globalisation, that need not turn into heightened tensions with other nations, or worse, the militarism to which Western commentators often quickly make an unspoken connection.

That that dotted line ends up pointing to a threat of the state in China’s case but libertarian militias in the United States is a separate conundrum.

Nonetheless, Beijing has frequently used nationalist sentiment for political ends in international disputes, especially with regional neighbours. It has been adept at dialling it up or down as deemed necessary. However, the risk is always that it will spin out of control.

Nationalism under populist, not Party control, would concern the leadership. The most outspoken online trolls will be tempered.

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