Flying saucer or JL-3 rocket?
Jun 14, 2019 (WiC 456)

Last Sunday alarmed Chinese took to social media to report a string of UFO sightings. But rather than flying saucers and extraterrestrials, what they had actually witnessed was a submarine-launched ballistic missile test, the Global Times said.

The newspaper came to that verdict after the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force posted an image on its weibo account of a missile in launch position with the message: “Do you believe in UFOs?”

Shortly afterwards the PLA Navy posted another photo of a missile being launched from the sea, and also asked: “Do you still believe in UFOs?”

The launch was probably part of a military exercise in the Bohai Sea, the newspaper said, and explained why residents of nearby provinces were reporting “a UFO with a glowing fiery tail streak across the sky”.

The speculation now is whether the missile deployed was the JL-3 – a weapon that can travel 14,000km, equipped with 10 independently guided nuclear warheads. This would be significant as the submarine-launched missile would be able to reach a wider range of targets than China’s intermediate-range arsenal.

The military hasn’t confirmed whether the JL-3 was tested successfully but media noted that the launch had happened at a similar time to Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, the region’s leading security forum, in Singapore. A senior consultant to the military told the Global Times this was most likely a coincidence, although it was “important to showcase China’s deterrence capability to counter US provocations”.

Come fly with me
Jun 7, 2019 (WiC 455)

In a case of leading by example, an 82 year-old woman took to the skies over Beijing last Sunday to encourage more young women to train for careers as pilots.

Miao Xiaohong, a retired military pilot, flew a light aircraft for 40 minutes, accompanied by a trainer, telling the Beijing Youth Daily there aren’t enough female aviators.

“I can still fly at 82. You young people are more likely to be able to fly and should do it better than me,” she urged.

Shandong-born Miao began her training in the Chinese airforce in 1956, becoming an army pilot two years later where she mostly flew logistics missions.

She said she was nervous before her latest flight but felt totally calm once she entered the cockpit. “When I got out of the plane, my body was okay and my heart rate was normal,” said the plucky octogenarian.

Last year the airforce said that 40 women aged between 17 and 20 were expected to join its pilot training programme and that it had trained 500 women as pilots since 1951.

Tweeting in Beijing
May 31, 2019 (WiC 454)

Veteran event organisers would probably advise that holding a conference in Beijing for a banned American social media platform would not be ideally timed if you did so in the same week Washington blacklisted Huawei. Twitter’s decision to hold the event at all was surprising – given Chinese users cannot access the platform in China. But to do so amid an escalating Sino-US trade and tech war made the effort look all the more doomed.

And yet an increasingly angry mood in the press and among netizens did not seem to dull interest in attending Twitter’s Beijing conference. The auditorium at the Minsheng Art Museum had anticipated a turnout of 400, but so many turned up that that around 100 attendees were forced to sit on the stairs in the aisles. Attendees tended to be young and curious about Twitter’s overseas popularity. Tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump was off the agenda, but speakers included a South Korean ad agency on how it had used Twitter to promote K-Pop, and the filmmaker Zack King.

Twitter said its goal in holding the conference was to show how Chinese brands could use its platform to reach consumers overseas.

Somewhat backfiring in this respect were some of the Chinese brands listed in Twitter’s earlier printed marketing materials – such as Huawei (just hit with a US ban) and the dronemaker DJI (reportedly next in line to receive the same treatment).