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Friday, Sep. 12, 2021

China's microbloggers seen curbing radical views


BEIJING — Amid the heightened anti-Japanese sentiment in China among young people over the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, intellectuals believe the spreading use of microblogs is nurturing rational views about Japan.

News photo
Emotions running high: Demonstrators in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, display a photo of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as they shout slogans during a protest against Japan on Tuesday. AFP-JIJI

Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University of China, points out that "rational public voices have become more noticeable" regarding the commotion over the Senkaku Islands, which are called Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.

The microblogging site Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, is used by more than 400 million people.

An official in the Chinese government said that the site has encouraged public debate, with radical opinions immediately being countered by rational remarks.

For instance, when the embassy car carrying Uichiro Niwa, the Japanese ambassador to China, was blocked on a Beijing street in late August and Chinese men snapped off the Japanese flag, more than 80 percent of respondents expressed support for the attack in a survey by Tencent, the Internet service portal that runs Weibo.

In contrast, many on Weibo posted concerns that such actions, while driven by patriotism, were being tolerated by the authorities.

"This kind of narrow-minded nationalism may drive the Chinese to follow in the steps of Japan's past militarism," one post said. China was subjected to Japanese atrocities before and during World War II.

A human-rights lawyer in Beijing said that only a limited segment of the public, such as youngsters, indulge in radical anti-Japanese sentiment nowadays.

Young people tend to have a group mentality and can be easily influenced by anti-Japanese views chanted by major media organizations and celebrities, the lawyer explained.

The protests in 2005 and 2010 clearly showed that the government considered anti-Japanese views as heroic and pro-Japanese opinions as the mark of traitors.

But one of the more recent protests spotlighted some changes.

Soon after Japanese authorities detained 14 activists who landed on one of the disputed islands on Aug. 15, demonstrations against Japan took place in more than 25 cities around China.

Only in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, did the protesters become a mob. During demonstrations the following week in Dongguan, also in Guangdong Province, some participants urged fellow protesters to act rationally when they tried to attack Japanese restaurants.

Experts used to believe that overall relations between Japan and China would remain stable under a Chinese Communist Party regime that can manipulate public sentiment, including its perceptions of Japan.

But this may no longer be the case.

According to one official, the Chinese government sees anti-Japanese opinion and actions taken by the public as "uncontrollable" and is calling for "rational patriotism."

Zhang, known for his reformist views and expertise on Japan-China ties, said patriotic education in China has lured the people into loving the Communist Party rather than the country.

"The deterioration in bilateral ties stems from the Communist Party's controls on free speech and its failure to offer education (in an objective way)," the professor said.

Zhang believes that bilateral relations will eventually be changed by relatively free discussions on Weibo.

"Rational discussions about Japan do not mean making people keep quiet by imposing controls on free speech," he said.

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