(Nov 3): Chinese state media have sought to quiet online speculation that a conflict with Taiwan may be imminent, in a sign of how heated rhetoric between Washington and Beijing was feeding public concern about the risk of war.
Chinese social media networks have seen a flurry of chatter about a possible Taiwan crisis in recent days, seemingly fueled by Beijing’s call for citizens to stockpile food and an unrelated message claiming to show the nation was preparing to mobilize military reserves. The surge came after a report by China’s state broadcaster saying that Taiwanese were hoarding their own survival supplies.
On Tuesday, the Economic Daily published a commentary urging the public “not to over read” a Ministry of Commerce statement encouraging families to stock up on some daily necessities due to supply-chain concerns. Then, late Tuesday, a social media account affiliated with the official People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper denounced the mobilization rumours as a “vile” and “malicious fabrication.”
“It will not only cause negative impact to the state, the military and society, it could also lead to severe consequences,” said the account, Junzhengping. One screenshot of a text message widely circulated on social media urged reserves to “get ready for being recalled at anytime” because “the Taiwan issue was very grim.”
On Wednesday morning, the Junzhengping denial was among the top-trending topics on the Weibo social media network. Still, the war talk continued to simmer, with a 63-year-old video of PLA generals singing that they “will definitely plant the flag of victory on Taiwan” getting more than 130 million views.
The controversy shows the challenge President Xi Jinping’s government faces in trying to manage Chinese public sentiment over Taiwan, even with its vast censorship powers. Over months of sabre-rattling over Taiwan, authorities have sometimes needed to step in to tone down the rhetoric and at other times faced backlash for perceived weakness.
China stockpiles food as energy crisis and Covid outbreak threaten Xi’s grip on power
Wed, 3 November 2021, 2:26 am
China’s absence from Cop26, while the world’s biggest polluter wrestles with the impact of climate change on soaring food prices, is an irony which will not be lost on leaders gathering this week.
Its strongman president Xi Jinping – who has not left the country since the advent of coronavirus – is to push through legislation at a key Communist Party meeting next week to help him secure another five years in power.
But before then, more immediate concerns are filling Xi’s in-tray. The Ministry of Commerce has warned households to stockpile food for the winter, and urged local authorities to stabilise prices and ensure supplies.
The alarming message sparked a flood of 17m comments on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with some speculating that an attack on Taiwan must be looming.
Sudden scrutiny over China’s ability to feed its 1.4bn people comes amid a raft of other headaches for Xi including a worsening outbreak of Covid cases, an energy crisis and a potential property crash exemplified by the woes of indebted developer Evergrande.
Combined, they have the ability to rock the country’s social and economic order: Xi’s worst fear.
“The big focus is always social stability above all else,” says Craig Botham, chief China economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Xi’s ability to maintain social order will be the main way the party will judge him.”
While China always attempts to stockpile fresh vegetables and pork in the run-up to the national Lunar New Year holiday, efforts have become more important after extreme weather in October flooded crops in Shandong province, the country’s biggest vegetable producer.