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Celebrities line up to endorse Beijing’s South China Sea claims

charlene choi

Accused of not being patriotic enough: Hong Kong’s Charlene Choi

Last week the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague concluded that China’s “historic claims” to the South China Sea were invalid. There was no evidence, the panel said, that China had ever exercised exclusive control of the disputed waters, where Beijing has been constructing artificial islands despite protests from neighbours like the Philippines and Vietnam.

As documented in last week’s China Ink, the Chinese were enraged by the verdict. Following the ruling, state-run media rushed to defend the country’s claims, declaring that the verdict was “biased” and “legally flawed” as Beijing had refused to participate in the proceedings.

Cyberspace also went into overdrive. More nationalistic netizens threatened to “take care of” the Philippines, which brought the case to the tribunal in 2013. Others launched an anti-Philippines campaign on Taobao, the online shopping site, calling for a boycott of products like dried mangoes, which is one of the most popular Filipino items on the platform.

“Let’s start by starving the Philippines,” one activist urged, proposing that China should start a trade war against its neighbour.

Another aggressive contributor wondered: “Does the Philippines archipelago want to become a Chinese province?”

Also eager to showcase their patriotism were A-list celebrities like Fan Bingbing, Yang Mi and Huang Bo. Some of them rushed to post maps that showed the disputed territories with the “nine-dash line” – a demarcation indicating Beijing’s claim to much of the South China Sea – on their personal weibo, along with the slogan: “This is China; not one dot less”.

The cartographical image they used was taken from the People’s Daily weibo account.

Actress Angelababy also joined the protest, saying that while she advocated peace, “when it comes to national sovereignty [China] should not back-down”.

Her post received over 330,000 likes.

Equally fervent were some of the Hong Kong actors who seek their fame across the border in mainland China. “Fight for every inch of [Chinese] soil, do not give up even one inch of it,” Hong Kong actress Leanne Li wrote on her personal weibo, which generated thousands of comments from mainland netizens thanking her for voicing support for the motherland.

Taiwan’s celebrities didn’t join their Hong Kong counterparts, however. The reason? In addition to the disputed islands in the South China Sea, the map posted by the People’s Daily also coloured Taiwan in red, marking the self-governing island out as under China’s sovereignty.

Nevertheless, Wallace Huo, a Taiwanese actor who appears regularly on mainland Chinese television, retweeted the map to his large fan base. His fiancée, Taiwanese actress Lin Xinru (see Red Star in issue 327), did the same, sparking debate.

“So now that Huo is in China earning renminbi, he couldn’t care less that Taiwan has been dyed red [on the map],” Hong Kong’s Apple Daily mocked.

But in a week of flag-waving fervour, even those who did not repost the map have met with online criticism. Hong Kong actress-singer Charlene Choi made the mistake of posting a behind-the-scenes photo of a fashion shoot on Tuesday, which earned her rebuke for not showing more patriotic spirit.

“The country is in trouble and you still have time to post your glamour shots,” one netizen fumed on Choi’s personal weibo.

“So you care to make money in renminbi but you don’t care that the country is in crisis,” thundered another.

Even the persistently patriotic Jackie Chan couldn’t escape the wrath of some netizens. On Tuesday the film star posted pictures alongside his co-star Fan Bingbing promoting their new movie, instead of sharing the map. That led to more anger from netizens, who said that Chan should prioritise the country’s sovereignty over everything else. Similarly, Taiwanese pop diva Jolin Tsai was bombarded with criticism from Chinese netizens for enjoying a holiday – in Japan (with which China has maritime territorial disputes too).

Were they overreacting? Hong Kong’s Charlene Choi seems to think so. In response to the criticism she got, she protested: “I’m totally speechless when it comes to the grumblings [about my patriotism]… Does being patriotic mean I have to say so every second? I donate money every year to build schools for orphaned children in China. Whenever there is a natural disaster I am there on the ground helping people out. Do I even need to respond to you people?”

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