Anti-war voices emerge in China amid loud pro-Russian rhetoric

Local media reported on Monday that a man in Hangzhou held up a sign that read “Stop the war” in English. In Chinese he wrote: “Please don’t support the war in Ukraine. On WeChat, Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua posted a new poem titled “I pray that a poem can stop a tank”.

In an open letter published on Saturday, a group of professors from universities in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau called on Russia to stop the war. “As a country once ravaged by war, where families were destroyed, where people everywhere were starving, … [w]We sympathize with the pain of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

On Monday, a petition condemning the invasion of Ukraine was signed by 121 alumni of several of China’s top universities, according to a copy provided by one of its organizers. The petition called on the Chinese government to honor commitments made to Ukraine under UN Resolution 984, which gave security guarantees to countries without nuclear weapons.

“We resolutely support the just fight of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression. We demand that the international community uphold and respect the territorial integrity, national dignity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” the statement read.

In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese social media was dominated by nationalist voices toeing the official line blaming the United States and its Western allies for the crisis.

The overwhelming pro-Russian sentiment, along with the few pro-Ukrainian voices, underscores the delicate position China’s leaders find themselves in as they attempt to navigate a geopolitical landscape where Beijing has little experience. China has wavered between maintaining its solidarity with Moscow and not directly endorsing the attack – an approach that has earned it criticism from other countries as well as Chinese citizens.

State media refrained from calling Russia’s actions an invasion. Over the weekend, state broadcaster CCTV repeated Russian disinformation reporting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled the country. The broadcaster later updated its report to say that the source of the information had not been verified.

While anti-American sentiment online is broadly on par with the official Chinese stance, some of the posts have become too extreme for official appetites, not least because of fears it could inflame anti-Chinese views in Ukraine, where thousands of Chinese nationals are waiting to be evacuated. .

Since Friday, WeChat, Weibo and Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) all said they had started cracking down on “inappropriate content”, while China’s official People’s Daily implored netizens to “speak rationally”.

Chinese netizens praised the speed and capability of the Russian military – apparently working on Moscow’s characterizations of the fighting – and hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin for standing up to the West.

Putin’s long, angry speech ordering military action made the rounds on the Weibo microblog last week after being promoted by the nationalist Global Times. In vulgar posts later censored, many users called for Ukrainian women to be sent to China for security reasons, while others jokingly called for joining the war effort to “get more academic credits”.

On Weibo, users expressed surprise when they learned that some of their Russian counterparts actually opposed the war. “It’s the brainwashing of Western color revolutions,” wrote one user, referring to the official Russian and increasingly Chinese view that people’s revolutions in Eastern Europe against pro- Moscow in the 2000s were orchestrated by the West. “These people don’t realize how much they have it,” said another.

Wang Di, a full professor in the history department at the University of Macau, who signed the scholars’ statement released on Saturday, said the sheer volume of such hawkish views motivated him to sign.

“There are fears that the international community will be misled into thinking that there is only one voice in China,” he said. “A lot of people look up to Putin because of nationalism or the belief in ‘strongman’ leaders, and that’s the scariest thing. If China is ever faced with a choice, will it choose peace or war?

Anti-war views have been derided online, with critics branding these peace advocates either moralizing ‘Virgin Marys’ or hypocrites who oppose all wars except those launched by states -United.

“What I am against is aggression. Ordinary people participate in war and their lives are ruined by war. War consumes real human lives,” said Huang, 25, working in biomedicine at Quzhou in Zhejiang province, who gave only his last name for security reasons.

Sun Jiang, a history and political science professor at Nanjing University who helped draft the open letter signed by the professors, said China must oppose the war or it will go to war. against its principles as well as those of the international system.

“Regardless of Russia’s thousands of apologies, the use of force to invade a sovereign country is a violation of the norms of international relations,” he said.

The letter he signed concludes: “Peace begins with desire in the heart. We oppose unjust war.

Censors also seem worried about pro-peace views. Posts about anti-war protests in Russia have disappeared from WeChat, and videos originally posted on news aggregator Toutiao appear to have been removed.

The Sun-drafted statement has been removed and the account that posted it has been terminated for “violating regulations.”

Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.

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