Tensions in the South China Sea have been rising rapidly in recent times with China, Vietnam, Taiwan, The Philippines and Malaysia all laying claim to a collection of disputed island chains, namely the largely uninhibited Paracels and Spratlys. After years of militarisation in the area, and claims of sovereignty from all parties, on July 12, 2016, an international court ruling in The Hague declared that China’s recent actions in the South China Sea were in fact illegal, environmentally destructive and deliberately provocative. China has defended this ruling stating that it “neither accepts nor recognizes” the court’s ruling and that the arbitration was “out of bad faith”. Not long after the ruling, Chinese social media exploded into a frenzy over the contentious issue and the topic soon began trending on Weibo after the People’s Daily (China’s largest state owned newspaper) posted the hashtag #中国一点都不能少# (see below) which makes reference to the nine red border lines used on maps to depict China’s territorial claims. Since posting, the hashtag has been re-posted over 2 million times and other media sources in China such as CCTV have voiced their opinions supporting the government’s rejection of the ruling. In light of this, netizens’ nationalistic sentiments have begun to emerge with millions of Weibo users signing a petition showing their support for China’s rejection of the high court’s ruling.
Political issues in China are often taboo topics, even more so when discussed online as China’s great firewall often censors internet content which is politically controversial. With an angry surge of Weibo users coming out in support of China over recent issues in the South China Sea, many international organisations have spoken out to voice their opinions on the issue in an effort to stay politically neutral. The United Nations posted on its official Weibo (see right) clearly stating its non-involvement with The Hague’s ruling over China’s actions and its lack of authorization to act in the matter. These response tactics have been observed by several international organizations in an attempt to prevent any lobbying or extended protests against them from the Chinese public.
In line with controversial topics, China’s sovereignty has been a long standing politically taboo issue in regards to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and as such corporate and branded accounts on Weibo have had to tread carefully when discussing such issues. With tensions at an all time high as of late, the University of Leicester came under attack for not handling such issues sensitively when a student at the university noticed a flyer regarding international student numbers had separated China and Hong Kong in to two different countries, however the university quickly resolved the issue by responding politely to the complainant and promised that the university would investigate the matter.
This is just one example of how seemingly innocent information and communications material posted online and offline can potentially cause offense to people and could even tarnish a brand’s reputation if not handled correctly. That’s why it’s extremely important that anyone posting content across social media channels in China is experienced enough to understand the playground they’re working in, and that cultural, political and lexical sensitivity is of vital importance to a successful Chinese social media campaign. Here at PingPong Digital we offer expert knowledge and guidance to our clients to ensure that their Chinese social media campaigns, content and designs are all culturally and politically appropriate and that our client’s brands are kept in safe hands. To find out more, contact us today. James Cabezas