China and the World

China reacts to downed jet

More Chinese sympathy for Putin in standoff with Ankara

Turkish president Erdogan

Erdogan: feuding with Putin

What are the chances of Holland’s consulate-general in Istanbul becoming a Chinese internet sensation?

Until a few days ago virtually zero, WiC reckons. But then Robert Schuddeboom signed into his Twitter account and typed out a few words that have become one of the most widely-forwarded messages in China’s social media.

“Often angry Turkish demonstrators mistake us for our close neighbours [the Russian Consulate]. Like tonight, throwing eggs,” he tweeted.

The local activists were protesting against Russian airstrikes in Turkmen-controlled regions of northern Syria. However, confusing the flags of Russia and the Netherlands, they were egging Dutch windows rather than Russian ones.

The message soon went viral. On the Global Times’ weibo account alone, for example, it was shared nearly 5,000 times with more than 2,500 comments as of Thursday. A majority of the remarks were emoticons of laughing faces, although some netizens recalled another blunder in July when a group of Turkish nationalists – protesting against China’s Xinjiang policy – confronted a group of Korean tourists in Istanbul, thinking they were Chinese.

Beijing’s relations with Ankara have been awkward recently (China is irked by criticisms from Turks of its Xinjiang policy, see WiC290).

But the main draw for patriotic comment online currently is the standoff after the shooting down of a Russian warplane by the Turks near the Syrian border last month.

WiC has reported before that the strongman style of Russian leader Vladimir Putin plays well with his Chinese admirers (see WiC229). A Sina Weibo account called “Putin’s fan group” has nearly 300,000 followers. And mirroring what happened after Russian intervention in Ukraine last year, many netizens again seemed to support Putin in his retaliatory measures against Turkey.

“Can’t wait for the polar bear [a popular moniker for Russia in Chinese social media] to give Tuji [‘dirt chicken’, Turkey’s Chinese nickname] a lesson,” crowed one popular comment on weibo.

“Chinese netizens have helped Putin devise 37 different ways of dealing with Turkey,” Xiang Xiaotian, a financial columnist, wrote sarcastically on his own weibo this week. “And 19 of these could send the A-share key index above 5,000.” (The Shanghai Composite is currently trading at around 3,500.)

The remark underlines a related trend: local investors have been buying into military-related stocks in the belief that any conflict will boost arms sales.

The Chinese foreign ministry steered clear of the war of words between Putin and Turkey’s Recip Tayyip Erdogan. “China is paying close attention to the incident and many circumstances need further clarification,” a spokesman told reporters last week, before adding the usual tonic that it also supports the international community’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The state media still sounded more sympathetic to the Russian side, however. “The border between two nations is rarely a straight line. It is absolutely okay for a person to walk slowly along the border without trespassing, but for a fighter jet which travels several thousand metres up in the sky and at a speed of several thousand kilometres per hour, the violation of airspace may only have lasted for a split second,” the People’s Daily commented, implying it wasn’t such a big deal if the Russian plane had temporarily crossed into Turkish territory.

“This was not a mistake,” the Global Times added more aggressively of the Turkish action. “This is a NATO member shooting down a warplane of its major rival.”

It also reminded its readers that Putin’s strongman image is at stake if he opts not to retaliate forcefully. So far he hasn’t (militarily) although he has ordered economic sanctions against Turkey, and discouraged Russian tourists from visiting.

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