Chinese state media have sought to quiet online speculation that a conflict with Taiwan might 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 the past few 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 Chinese Ministry of Commerce statement encouraging families to stock up on some daily necessities due to supply-chain concerns.
Then, late on Tuesday, a social media account affiliated with the official People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper denounced the mobilization rumors 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 any time” because “the Taiwan issue was very grim.”
Yesterday 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 Chinese People’s Liberation Army generals singing that they “will definitely plant the flag of victory on Taiwan” getting more than 130 million views.
The controversy shows the challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government faces in trying to manage Chinese public sentiment over Taiwan, even with its vast censorship powers. Over months of saber-rattling over Taiwan, authorities have sometimes needed to step in to tone down the rhetoric and at other times faced backlash for perceived weakness.
The official China Daily newspaper warned in an editorial on Sunday that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were “leading Taiwan to an abyss.”
The paper cited a senior Chinese official’s pledge to spend the nation’s “post-unification” revenue on improving the well-being of its citizens as a remark that shows “confidence that the Taiwan question will be settled in the foreseeable future.”
Hu Xijin (胡錫進), the editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, offered a strategic rationale for the government’s rhetoric in a commentary published on Monday.
Hu said that “peaceful reunification” would likely result from applying enough pressure to make the DPP leadership believe it had no choice but to surrender.
“Personally, I believe there is still a chance for peaceful reunification, but it must be based on the condition that the DPP authority feels cornered and will perish if they do not accept reunification,” Hu said.
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