Ask Mei

Talk of war gets louder on WeChat

How do Chinese netizens feel about the deteriorating Sino-US relations?

With the shutdown of the Chinese consulate in Houston and the tit-for-tat closing of the US consulate in Chengdu, Sino-American hostility seems to be reaching a hysterical point. What may come next? If Chinese social media is any indicator, a military conflict, or a ‘hot war’, between the two superpowers is one of the more likely scenarios.

In the past week I have seen a noticeable increase of war-related discussions on WeChat and Sina Weibo. On Tuesday, a friend posted the Chinese version of the 2016 report War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable by the RAND Corporation, a US think tank. He commented that whether we like it or not, the possibility is no longer as unthinkable as it seemed just a few weeks ago and that we should all be prepared for war. While few people believe that all-out confrontation is likely, many think that some kind of low-to-medium-level military conflict is possible, especially in the South China Sea.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalistic newspaper, is one of the most vocal voices. “Even though most Americans may not want to go to war, their rampant populism and their displeasure at China’s rapid development may be exploited by Trump to deflect blame for his failures,” he warned in a video posted on weibo. “In this situation, Americans may prefer to side with their own man than with rationality.”

Hu added that the Chinese should give up hopes that the American government will alter its attitude towards China even if the Democrats win the White House in November’s election: “China needs to be ready for more extreme and riskier provocations from America. Hurry up and make more nuclear weapons which can serve as a deterrent to those mad Americans,” he urged.

His post received close to 100,000 likes and 15,500 comments overwhelmingly supportive of his views.

There are opponents of this kind of view. One popular article carried the headline I’m not Weak but I Prefer Peace between China and America. Its author Ouyang Qian, a writer and boxer, ridiculed warmongering friends who “can’t even sustain a few punches in the ring yet they are calling for war with America”, and he called nationalistic voices like Hu Xijin “exquisitely self-serving” as people who will never go to the battlefield, only offering verbal barbs. He also blamed so-called “wolf warriors” for the deterioration in Sino-US relations and reminded readers that China’s economic success in recent decades was largely due to the “reform and open” policies that brought the country into the global market. “Peace should be the guiding principle, because every Chinese life is precious and everybody has family and friends. Focusing on economic development and eradicating poverty should be our top priority,” he urged.

As a globalist who has family and friends in both China and America, I hope that cooler heads will prevail and that all the talk of war will just be talk and never become reality.

 

A native Chinese who grew up in northeastern China, Mei attended an elite university in Beijing in the late 1980s and graduate school in the US in the early 1990s. Over two decades she has worked in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, both in the media and with two global investment banks, where she has honed her bicultural perspective. If you’d like to ask her a question, send her an email at [email protected]


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