When it comes to Ukraine, Chinese officials are in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, they don’t like the U.S. hectoring other nations, which they see America as doing to Russia. They also aren’t at all averse to seeing others thumb their nose at the Americans. On the other hand, allowing the Crimea to vote on its own future sets a dangerous precedent for those in Tibet and Taiwan who want nothing to do with the mainland.
That discord goes a long way toward explaining the platitudes and verbal contortions we’ve been hearing from Chinese officials—not to mention Beijing’s decision to abstain on the recent United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions.
“The complex history and reality bring Ukraine to where it is today. Under the current circumstances, China calls on all sides to exercise calm and restraint,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on March 27. “China follows a just and objective position on the issue of Ukraine and is committed to promoting a political settlement of it,” he continued.
Thankfully, Chinese on Sina Weibo and other Chinese online platforms have been a lot more direct: ”In this, Russia really has crossed the line, supporting regions in other countries to hold referendums is wrong, and if the UN approves, then Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia would all hold referendums for independence,” wrote one person on Sina Weibo with the online name of Buzaichang, according to ChinaSMACK, a website that translates Chinese Internet content.
Russia “had a history of swallowing up other country’s territory. The devil Stalin had even more ambition than the Tsar. Before and after WWII they invaded many different countries’ territory,” including that of Finland, Japan, and China, wrote another on KDNET, an online Chinese language portal.
“Crimea holds a referendum to split from Ukraine, and unbelievably there are people amongst you all cheering it on. Did you know? In 1945 October, the Soviet Union also encouraged a referendum in Mongolia, with only 500,000 people participating, but was able to cut away 15% of China’s territory,” wrote Cui Chenghao on Sina Weibo, referring to the period when Outer Mongolia gained independence from China.
Some had praise for the Russians. “Although I dislike Russia and have never thought that they are a friend of China, still Lao Maozi’s [an old Chinese slang term for Russians] resolute attitude in daring to act, and daring to take responsibility, is worth learning from,” wrote one commenter on KDNET.
Chinese bloggers got riled up again, after the Russian Embassy made the tactically questionable decision to raise the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen massacre, suggesting in a blog posting that what China’s government encountered at that time provided some sort of relevant historical lesson to understanding the situation now facing Russia.
“Western sanctions may bring Russia and China closer together,” wrote the Russian Embassy in Beijing on its official Sina Weibo account on March 25. “Some Western countries want to stop military cooperation with Russia. The current situation facing Russia is a bit similar to what China encountered after the Tiananmen Square incident,” the blog continued. A student protest in 1989 turned into an occupation by protesters of Beijing’s Tienanmen Square. That ended when Chinese troops fired on the protesters, killing an unknown number. Global leaders condemned the Chinese regime, just as they are condemning Russia now.
“Do you want to drag China into the water? First return the 1.5 million square kilometers of occupied land to China to show your sincerity!” was one response to the Russian Weibo blog by someone with the Internet moniker Xuanxuanman, referring to Outer Mongolia, which broke away from China with Russian help after WW II. “They [the Chinese leaders] have put their bank accounts, sons and daughters in Europe and America, how can they walk side by side with you—it’s a dream,” wrote Feijicheng Xiaodai a day later.
Another responded with a humorous nod to the fact that all searches for Tiananmen are blocked on the Chinese Internet: “Explain what you mean by the Tiananmen Incident—don’t use as an example something that we can’t even search for on the Internet,” wrote Linchengxiaozi on March 25.