Up to 21 people, include 16 Chinese, were killed in riots at a Taiwanese steel mill in Vietnam on Thursday after anti-China protests spread to the center of the country from south where several other Chinese-looking factories have been set to fire or looted. These riots, which came after China moved a billion–dollar oil rig into disputed waters in the South China Sea, hit headlines around the world….except in China.
China’s state media have been surprisingly quiet about what happened to Chinese businesses and nationals in Vietnam – one has to scroll down at least twice before spotting the first mention of Vietnam on the websites of Xinhua, CCTV or People.com.
More interestingly, existing reports on anti-China riots in Vietnam significantly played down what’s happening. During the past 24 hours, the only Vietnam-related news post on the official Weibo account of People’s Daily was about 1 Chinese being killed and over 1000 Vietnam protesters being arrested.
Even Global Times, the pro-government newspaper known for jumping on any opportune to promote nationalism, stayed in check this time. There were only two Vietnam-related commentaries posted on its Weibo page in the past 2 days: One was a warning to mainland Chinese to not to go to Vietnam in any time soon; the other was a report on how riots in Vietnam may harm the investment environment of Southeast Asia.
China Digital Times even reported an alleged order from Beijing to ban reports of “Chinese-funded enterprises in Vietnam being attacked by Vietnamese.” As if to confirm the ban, many real-time updates from Chinese currently in Vietnam have been censored on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform.
Many Chinese netizens couldn’t help but ask, angrily: Why the silence? No one has an answer. What they do know, however, is that they are extremely unhappy about how Beijing has handled the situation.
One Netizen 龟速船长TurboS, who is a Chinese currently on the run in Vietnam, asked bitterly: “Our residential community has been looted….Hundreds of people retreated to another Chinese community. We all want to go home, but where are you, my country??!!”
Many Chinese netizens accused Beijing of “being chicken” or “too soft.” “Our countrymen are suffering on foreign land, and the only support they ever received from our ‘rising-power’ government was a warning to take care of themselves. Growing influence and military power? What a joke!” One netizen 叶恭默 commented.
Some even questioned whether the silence was because Beijing was caught off balance and hasn’t come up with a plan yet. One netizen 陈村 pointed out: “People are being killed. A few diplomatic words of complaint won’t work.”
The irony, however, is how strikingly similar Vietnam and China are. Or, how both governments have successfully “fanned” nationalism sentiments. For some Chinese netizens, the anti-China riots in Vietnam are like a replay of the anti-Japan riots in China not long ago. The burning Chinese and Taiwanese factories are mirror images of burning Japanese cars and businesses in China. In both cases, innocent people shoulder the consequences of government actions.