Major General Luo Yuan is the vice-secretary of the China Association for Military Science. He’s also known as something of a nationalist. In the current dispute with Japan over contested islands in the East China Sea, the army officer has been vocal in criticising Tokyo and warning of retaliation in event of any Japanese incursion. In a groundbreaking move, Luo recently posted his first message on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo service. This was unusual, as regulations prohibit members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from operating web pages or blogs. But as Luo pointed out, a new policy has allowed relevant military scholars from the PLA to open weibo accounts, provided their organisations approve and no military secrets are revealed. Luo said his own weibo effort was part of this “opening up” by the Chinese army and revealed its “stronger confidence”. He has already attracted 300,000 ‘followers’ to his tweets.
His first post…
Luo sent out his message on February 23 and it stated: “One internet friend asks me what we fight for and why we fight for it? My answer is simple: to protect the national interest, punish internal traitors, sweep away corruption and revitalise the Chinese nation under the leadership of Chairman Xi!”
Why use weibo?
In an interview with the People’s Daily, Luo said his purpose was to ensure that the correct information was spread promptly and accurately, as well as to give him the chance to interact online with “friends” in discussing national defence. Using an appropriate metaphor he noted that the PLA had realised weibo was “a very important battlefield of public opinion”.
However, Luo also seems to have been prompted to set up his account by a feud with Fudan University’s Feng Wei. Feng had earlier posted a photograph featuring the cover of a Japanese newspaper. Its headline alleged that Major General Luo had said “Bomb Tokyo… And in case of conflict, 100,000 Japanese in China will be taken hostage.” But Luo refuted this in another of his weibo posts, lamenting that “sometimes people make malicious announcements in your name”. He seemed to be directing his anger at Feng, an expert in Japanese affairs.
Why it’s sensitive
Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo have not shown any signs of dying down. Only last week the Chinese Ministry of Defence issued a terse statement saying that Tokyo had “defamed” the PLA by “fabricating” an incident in which it claimed that one of China’s warships had radar-locked a Japanese vessel.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Abe Shinzo continues to talk tough, calling for a “strong Japan”. In a speech to parliament last week Abe compared the island dispute to the 1982 Falklands War. Putting Japan in Britain’s position (and implicitly seeing China in Argentina’s role, as the aggressor), he cited a remark by former UK leader Margaret Thatcher that “the rule of international law must triumph over the exertion of force.”
In this environment, more rumbustious remarks made by a PLA major general online will always have the potential to be inflammatory. That’s why Luo’s weibo – the only one published by an army official – will be watched closely.
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