A hundred and sixty years is nothing but a blip in the longer run of Chinese history.
This was the view of many netizens last week when the Russian embassy in Beijing posted a video on its Sina Weibo account celebrating the founding, and annexation, of the far eastern city of Vladivostok.
While the Chinese government makes no claims on the city – all border disputes with Russia were formally settled in 2008 – netizens responded that it is only a matter of time until their country regained what is rightfully their’s. “Butcher! Robber! Get out of China!” one incensed nationalist responded on weibo.
“Vladivostok, Blagoveshchensk, Sakhalin, Khabarovsk are all Chinese territory,” wrote another, listing several cities and islands in Russia’s far east.
The weibo message celebrating Vladivostok’s founding explained that the city’s name means “Ruler of the East” in Russian. “The history of Vladivostok began in 1860,” it said in Chinese.
Like Hong Kong, Vladivostok was signed away to foreign powers in the mid-1800s by China’s Qing rulers (although Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997). Up to that point it was a relatively small settlement under Qing control, called Haishenwai or the Bay of Sea Slugs.
The Russian celebration of the anniversary was ill-timed. Patriotic sentiment is running high in China as Beijing flexes its muscles in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and on disputed sections of the Sino-Indian border.
Russia’s annexation of the region is known in China as one of the “unequal treaties” and part of the so-called “century of humiliation.” China’s recent leaders have played down the older enmity with the Russians in the name of forging a more productive partnership today (see WiC456). But suspicion and mistrust – especially between people of the two countries in regions around the border – has often lingered (see WiC444).
“The biggest poison to China is actually Russia,” another netizen warned. The Xinmin Evening News, based in Shanghai, was also unhappy with the Russian embassy’s social media posting, describing it as “inferior and unprofessional” and accusing Moscow of having “arrogance in its bones”.
Hu Xijin – the opinionated editor of the Global Times and a fluent Russian speaker – penned a further commentary lambasting the embassy post, and said it was disrespectful to the Chinese public.
“It did not conform to the mission of strengthening friendship be-tween the two peoples… and created an opportunity for those who wish to undermine relations between the two countries,” he chided.
Eventually the embassy took the post down and deleted all the comments. Sina Weibo then censored any mention of the subject.
Only a week before the Chinese had dispatched an honour guard to Moscow to take part in celebrations in Red Square marking the 75th anniversary of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. “We send them our honour guard, they humiliate China on the Chinese internet,” remarked yet another angry weibo user.
“It’s like stealing our property and then shouting about it in our living room,” fumed another.
Perhaps the Global Times is right when it says that friendship between Russian and Chinese people has “room to grow”…
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