While one figure skater broke the Chinese public’s heart, another freestyle skier lifted their spirits – both created controversies on Chinese social media. From China’s Afghanistan concerns to stopping herders in Ladakh, here we look at the big breaking stories from China – and the world.
China over the week
The Chinese public has been enamoured by athlete Eileen Gu, or Gu Ailing, for deciding to compete as part of the Chinese team at the Winter Olympics despite rumours that she still holds her US passport. But the athlete who was being hailed by nationalist citizens also became a subject of mockery for suggesting that anyone in mainland China can use VPN, which social media users saw as her inability to recognise her privilege.
Gu, the 18-year-old freestyle skier, won a gold medal in the big air competition on Tuesday. The Chinese social media instantly fell in love with her. Out of the 20 top Weibo hashtags, ten were dedicated to Gu and her family.
But Gu’s response to an Instagram user who wondered how she accesses Instagram started a controversy. Gu said “anyone can download a VPN (Virtual Protocol Network), it’s literally free on the app store” to access banned websites and apps led to some Weibo users telling her to see her privilege of being able to straddle between US and China.
Nationalist Chinese continued to defend her by pushing back against “criticism” by US media.
The hashtag “Gu Ailing gold” was viewed 2.46 billion times on Weibo. The hashtags related to Gu’s medal even crashed Sina Weibo’s servers briefly. The hashtag “Gu Ailing is too cute to warm up before the game” was viewed 65 million times.
Another athlete, Zhu Yi, wasn’t as lucky as Gu after falling twice during her performance. Zhu was born in California, but gave up her US passport to compete for China. Weibo deleted
300 comments attacking athletes, and censored additional 121 posts, according to some reports by Chinese state media.
But according to The Times, the scale of censorship after Zhu’s failed bid was much bigger. Over 41,000 posts were deleted, and Weibo permanently suspended 850 accounts after a barrage of attacks against Zhu.
Controversies related to the Winter Olympics didn’t end with Gu and Zhu.
The dormitory prepared for Finnish athletes began flooding, with athlete Katri Lylynpera video on her Instagram stories being extensively shared on Twitter. Chinese organisers later asked her to delete the video.
The Beijing Winter Olympics wasn’t just about the games themselves. Leaders such as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attempted to use the interviews with Chinese state media for political gains. Khan’s recent trip to Beijing may have been largely disappointing as he failed to secure any new funding. But Pakistan remains a key partner for China in the intensely contested geopolitics of Asia.
Imran Khan gave an exclusive interview to Li Shimo, the director of the Advisory Committee of the China Research Institute at Fudan University. Li has interviewed several Chinese diplomats, Western academics, and journalists for the Chinese state media outlet, Guancha.
“First of all, let me say that the US is also a good friend of Pakistan, but this kind of friendship is different from the ‘all-weather’ friendship between China and Pakistan. America used to be very friendly to Pakistan, but when they thought Pakistan was useless, we were abandoned by America. The US thought we would be friends again,” Khan said during the interview. He even took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government.
“What’s happening in India right now is that the Indian government believes that India is only for Hindus, and by doing so, it is marginalising some 600 million or 700 million people who are now considered second-class citizens, including 200 million Muslims in India,” Khan added.
Beijing’s support of the Taliban had initially come as a surprise as US forces withdrew from Afghanistan. But after months of Taliban rule over Kabul, China is facing the old problem that has remained on its mind – the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
“We call on the Security Council and the international community to pay close attention to the active and developing terrorist threats posed by ETIM/TIP, to cut off its connection with ISIS and erase the space for it to breed and do harm,” said ambassador Zhang Jun, China’s envoy to the United Nations.
While Beijing was trying to make its case at the UN, 28 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers allegedly entered Indian territory and stopped Ladakhi herders from grazing their herds.
“On January 28, PLA Army came into our territory and did not let our herds graze in our territory,” claimed Chushul councilor Konchok Stanzin. According to Stanzin, the incident occurred at Dogduk near Dolah Tangoo Nyoma Sub-division of the Ladakh Union Territory. Stanzin’s account was also narrated by Block Development Chairperson of Nyoma, Urgain Chodon, a BJP member.
Whether it is China’s assertiveness in the international arena or the transformation of its domestic politics, David Shambaugh remains the leading China watcher keeping an eye on Beijing. Shambaugh is widely read by top Chinese Communist Party leaders and has in the past managed to interview them as well.
Shambaugh is back with some advice for Chinese leaders.
“It’s not an insubstantial risk that a war [will occur] between the United States and China,” said Shambaugh in an interview with South China Morning Post.
Shambaugh said that the Chinese Communist Party should ensure that it remains open or else it will suffer “Soviet Union-style atrophy”. “If the [party] doesn’t continue to water the plant and open up to sunshine, proverbially, of course, it’s going to revert to atrophy. So, it’s a constant process.” Shambaugh added.
China in world news
Many watchers of the Cross-Strait relations between Beijing and Taipei have questioned the US’s resolve to defend Taiwan. This past week, the US Department of Defence approved a possible “sale of equipment and services” worth $100 million to Taiwan, which would help sustain and maintain the Patriot missile system.
The sale will “help improve the recipient’s security and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region”, said the US defence security cooperation agency.
Taiwan’s security wasn’t the only decision the US took over the past week.
The US Department of Commerce added 33 Chinese companies to its entities list. These companies will find it hard to work with US companies.
According to Reuters, the US is considering launching a probe into China, failing to purchase $200 billion worth of agriculture products, energy and services, which were part of the phase one trade deal signed by the Donald Trump administration.
Despite the world’s attention on Ukraine, the foreign ministers of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries gathered in Melbourne. Though the joint statement resulting from the Quad ministers’ meeting didn’t directly mention China, the statement mentioned that the four nations would “oppose coercive economic policies” – a reference to Chinese economic coercion.
Following the ministerial in Melbourne, the White House published its latest Indo-Pacific strategy document.
“The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbours in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behaviour” said the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy document.
What you must read this week
China’s Anti-Graft Show Is Educational, With Unintended Lessons — Li Yuan
A Rival of America’s Making? The Debate Over Washington’s China Strategy — G. John Ikenberry; Andrew J. Nathan; Susan Thornton; Sun Zhe; and John J. Mearsheimer
Nixon in China: are there lessons for today’s leaders? — Jane Perlez
Why the World Needs China’s Covid-Zero Policy — James Mayger
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
This is a weekly round-up that Aadil Brar writes about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.
(Edited by Prashant)