“Strongly demand to send one of the Politburo Standing Committee to Diaoyu”

Diaoyu activists on board Qifeng-2 at Hong Kong


UPDATE FRI PM: the detainees are being released in two batches, with 7 sent by plane to Hong Kong and the other 7, including the captain and bosun, told to sail their boat back. The activist group says a second landing attempt “cannot be ruled out” (see Twitter for details and sources).

China and Japan are now engaged in their second nasty diplomatic confrontation in the past 2 years, over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. There were anti-Japanese demonstrations in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday, and the issue is dominating China’s entire newsmediascape. But it’s the Chinese government that is copping most of the wrath of online opinion.

On Sunday (August 12) a group of mostly middle-aged-and-older activists set out from Hong Kong on a rusty old tub called the Qifeng-2, to proclaim China’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands by landing on one of them and raising the Chinese flag, or flags as it turned out.

Even at that early stage domestic Chinese internet opinion was focusing on the PRC government. The Huanqiu Shibao got the activists a great deal of online media attention by picking up their public request for a PLA Naval escort for the Qifeng-2 in the (inevitable) event that they were intercepted by Japanese Coastguard patrols.

Top comments on the portals were divided between expressions of support for the Hong Kong activists, and criticism of the government. Five out of the top ten comments on the 184,000-strong Tencent thread, ‘Activists from two sides [of the Straits] and three regions plan to proclaim Diaoyu sovereignty, Japan orders interception‘ directly challenged the government to match the activists’ patriotism:

Strongly demand the Central Committee of the CCP send at one of the Politburo Standing Committee or a ministerial-level official to Diaoyu to declare sovereignty! If you agree please ‘ding’!” [28212 dings]

“Since Diaoyu is an intrinsic part of China, and Japan has ‘ordered an interception’, what is our government and military doing???? Could they really just protest with words? The loss of face is obvious!!” [9652]

“Govt govt govt, when Japan is planning to nationalise the Diaoyus, how can you be doing so little? Send a naval escort. ”

“What is our foreign ministry and military’s position?”

“The little people have the guts to go protect the island, something you [leaders] should have done all along, but you just protest from indoors. Have you heard the saying, 表字卖内什么你卖嘴††?”

(†† No, i haven’t – can anyone enlighten me?)

The CCP government’s lack of supportive action led to unfavourable comparisons with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak, who 3 days earlier had personally visited the island of Dokdo, also the subject of a territorial dispute with Japan. The comparison was unfair, of course, because South Korea actually has control of Dokdo, whereas China does not have control of the Diaoyu Islands.

Anyway, on Wednesday, despite intense harassment from a group of Japanese Coastguard ships, the activists somehow (how?) made it all the way onto the largest island. Five of them scrambled ashore. Although they couldn’t seem to plant their flags on the rocky shore, they did became the first Chinese people to set foot on the Diaoyus since 2004.

The adventurous five were promptly arrested by the Japanese authorities, along with the nine others who stayed on the Qifeng-2, and China’s Foreign Ministry promptly issued “stern representations”, with Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying demanding their “immediate and unconditional release”.

Korla Evening News, August 16, 2012, shows the moment the Chinese activists set foot on Diaoyu Island

Although the PRC’s official media, in particular radio, TV and newspapers, tried to run with a jubilant good-news angle, the Chinese internet media worked much more like a conventional audience-driven news medium in which “good news is no news”. On the portals reaction to the “successful” landing was immediately swamped by reaction to the arrest of the activists (and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ subsequent response).

Baodiao activist in Japanese custody (screen grab from August 16, 2012 Phoenix TV report)

On NetEase there were more than 517,000 participants in the discussion thread attached to the story ‘China demands unconditional release of Hong Kong Diaoyu-protectors‘. The top comments left no doubt as to what the take-home message of the whole sequence of events had been — at least for those half-million or so readers who cared enough to make their views known:

“Click if you feel ashamed to say you are Chinese.” [117,956 agrees]

“Unable to protect even a Diaoyu activist, and still saying Diaoyutai are ours!!! Laughable!!!! Keep practicing your verbal kung-fu!!!” [73,452]

“I used to hate the Japanese, around the time i was small, the reason was i had watched too many Anti-Japanese War of Resistance films. But now i don’t hate the Japanese. We say the Diaoyu Islands are ours, but Japan says they are theirs, so their maritime Self-Defence Force comes out, and the activists who landed on the island are arrested. The Japanese did well, extremely well! I believe when the Japanese masses see this news they will definitely feel proud! How i wish the roles were reversed in this incident, how i wish Japanese people had landed on the island and ended up in the custody of the Chinese Navy! How I wish we could be proud for once!” [60,636]

. . .

“It’s hopeless, the mainland’s elite males stopped producing testosterone long ago, they have been eunuchs for too long and forgotten they are male.” [22,758]

Tencent’s QQ.com was the platform for a 470,000-strong discussion thread on the story, ‘14 Chinese Diaoyu-protectors detained by Japan, Foreign Ministry demands immediate release‘.

” ‘Seven activists landed on Diaoyu Island and proclaimed sovereignty’. Can I understand it like this? — 1.) Seven Chinese people land on an island. 2.) The island is China’s. 3.) Seven Chinese people were arrested by a foreign country on Chinese soil. I want to ask the state, what should we do about this?” [91,172 supports]

“When nothing is happening, our Fisheries Enforcement boats conduct their so-called patrols more than 12 nautical miles from Diaoyu. But the 14 Hong Kong Diaoyu activists (apparently the oldest one is over 60) who go to proclaim sovereignty, get followed by Japanese patrol boats, attacked with water cannon, rammed, and at that time they look completely alone and helpless. Yet they forged ahead and declared sovereignty! This heroic feat should be lauded for everything it’s worth. But aside from lauding, our Fisheries Enforcement boats were taking it easy somewhere. But where? [45,675]

Comments everywhere elicited mass agreement by sinking the boot into the government, and in particular the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, which only last month was proudly conducting patrols near the Diaoyu Islands.

There were demonstrations at the Japanese embassy in Beijing on both Wednesday and Thursday. They were similar in patriness to the protests at the Philippines embassy back in May at the height of the Scarborough Shoal dispute, though the enthusiasm level was higher than the anti-Philippine protests, as one would expect. This report (only second half concerns Beijing protests) from Shenzhen TV, and this one from Phoenix confirm this, though the numbers of protesters would only be in the dozens.

Anti-Japanese protest in Beijing, August 15, 2012

The People’s Daily‘s website was yesterday using its heavily-followed Weibo account to disseminate reports of Wednesday’s protesters, a sign that the government might have been encouraging more to attend. Indeed, in a roadside vox pop in this video report, a student who might just be some kind of organiser grabs the microphone and urges all the university students in China to “bring out their real patriotic heart and unite”. So larger numbers were probably not prevented from attending yesterday.

It looks like Japan will probably deport the 14 detainees in the next day or so, which would bring an end to the immediate crisis. It will therefore be interesting to see if there are any more protests today in Beijing.

After all, to the extent that the internet is any indication, it’s the Chinese government, rather than Japan, that is the number one target of popular anger at the moment.

3 Comments on ““Strongly demand to send one of the Politburo Standing Committee to Diaoyu””

  1. […] giant comment threads on the portals indicate that exactly this kind of question is in the forefront of many ordinary PRC […]

  2. siumai says:

    International laws are made to maintain order among nations in this world. China should respect international laws and allow these territorial disputes to be heard in an international tribunal. If they refuse, then they are admitting that they have no case and will just resort to bullying?

    • To be fair, Japan has not indicated willingness to have the East China Sea island dispute heard in an international tribunal either.

      Interestingly, some right-wing Japanese politicians (e.g. Shintaro Ishihara, Toru Hashimoto and others) have called for Japan to indicate willingness to take the dispute to the ICJ, which would in effect be a huge concession to China because one of China’s main demands is for Japan to acknowledge that a dispute exists.

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