Sat, Jan 23, 2016 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Rolling with the trolling

As happened on Nov. 11 last year, the Great Firewall of China appeared to suddenly spring a leak on Wednesday night and into Thursday, allowing tens of thousands of messages to flood president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Facebook page with pro-Beijing messages, as well as sites belonging to SETN.com and the Apple Daily.

In reporting on the incident, some wire agencies spoke of young Chinese “scaling” the firewall — a nice image, but given the ban on accessing Facebook in China and the close monitoring by Beijing’s Internet Praetorians, completely unbelievable.

Just as unbelievable was the response by some that the outpouring was a “spontaneous” manifestation of young Chinese, even though an online forum named after Chinese soccer player Li Yi (李毅) claimed credit for inspiring this week’s deluge.

The truth is that temporary holes are deliberately created; if not, there would be continuous waves of such messages, not specifically timed dumps.

Tsai — and the Democratic Progressive Party — struck just the right note by not directly addressing the criticisms in the messages, but only saying the great thing about Taiwan was “that everyone has the right to be themselves.”

It is that kind of detachment that is needed now — and is likely to be needed in the coming weeks and years — to deal with other such spontaneous outbursts from China and Beijing’s evasive “who, us?” response when called out on such actions.

A perfect example of Beijing’s disingenuousness came yesterday when the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said that no one should be reading too much into China Central Television’s (CCTV) broadcasts this week of footage of live-fire military and landing drills along the coast, because the footage was simply “a summary of training maneuvers organized last year.”

However, CCTV said the footage was of “winter exercises” in “recent days.” Such obfuscation was clearly intended to ensure that Taiwanese and others would think the drills — or the broadcasts — were aimed at sending a message to post-election Taiwan.

Beijing knows full well the power of such television images on its domestic audiences, if no one else. That is why CCTV repeatedly broadcast two spurious confessions this week by two detained Swedish citizens, China-born Gui Minhai (桂民海), a co-owner of the Hong Kong publishing house Mighty Current (巨流), and rights activist Peter Dahlin.

Dahlin disappeared on Jan. 3, and after more than a week of blatantly denying any knowledge of him, Beijing on Wednesday last week confirmed that he was being held on suspicion of “endangering state security,” with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that “coercive measures” had been taken against him. “Coercive” is a word the foreign ministry should rethink using, given that Beijing’s claims that Dahlin’s confession was voluntary and that it safeguards the legal rights of foreigners and its citizens. Dahlin’s confession looked about as voluntary as that of Gui, who tearfully said that he had turned himself in to Chinese authorities in October last year over a hit-and-run charge from 2003, with no explanation of how he disappeared from Thailand, or went without word to family, colleagues and friends for three months.

A “leaky” Great Firewall, misleading news reports and coerced confessions are all part of the Chinese Communist Party’s business model. While Beijing likes to bleat about the feelings of the Chinese people being hurt whenever someone criticizes China, it feels free to continuously insult the intelligence of the rest of the world.

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