Voices outside the government, including former Global Times editor Hu Xijin, had been more direct, saying China may take military action against Pelosi’s plane — raising public expectations of a showdown.
Instead, Pelosi and his Congressional delegation landed on the tarmac at Taipei’s Songshan Airport, where they were greeted by a live-streamed greeting from Taiwanese officials as the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper displayed “US-Taiwanese friendship forever” in a highly lit text and crowds, of supporters and protesters, gathered outside Pelosi’s hotel to await his arrival.
And in China’s online sphere, where nationalist voices dominate its highly censored social media, the disappointment was great.
“I don’t know where to hang my head. It’s so shameful. People outside the Great Firewall are laughing their heads off. (China) is literally a ‘paper tiger’,” one user wrote on the Chinese social network Weibo, which resembles Twitter. Platform. Others asked why there was so much hype for so little action.
But in the days that followed, a settling of scores and a reset unfolded in China. In an attempt to reverse the discontent, state media stepped up to rally support for China’s response, describing its military drills as strong and “unprecedented”. Social media platforms have been inundated with news of these exercises, and other voices in the public arena have praised China for what they call a successful strategic response. and denounced what they considered warmongering.
One of the targets of the pushback has been Hu, the former editor of the state-backed tabloid Global Times, seen as a key voice reigniting nationalist sentiment in recent days.
Thursday, the Influential “Chairman Rabbit” account on messaging platform WeChat, run by blogger Ren Yi, said China’s actions matched the government’s tone, but not the predictions of the former Global Times editor.
“The Chinese government has indeed formulated very strong and proud countermeasures, which have been very successful in handling this issue of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan,” the post said.
“As a result (of Hu’s remarks), on the evening of August 2, when the Chinese government and state media solemnly announced the military drills and series of countermeasures against Taiwan, netizens did not applaud these countermeasures. ‘unprecedented power, nor did they feel the unprecedented high morale, the great excitement of people’s hearts or the boiling patriotic feeling,’ the message said.
Another popular online commentator, Geng Xiangshun, said public patriotism was “very good”, but calls for war were reckless, although he did not mention Hu.
“You should know that the ultimate goal is to achieve the reunification of the fatherland at the lowest cost, not to start a war,” he wrote on his Weibo account.
Hu defended himself in a message on Thursday, saying his “heavy words” had value in influencing discussions around Pelosi’s visit, including in Washington, adding that the “patriotic camp” should have “diverse voices “.
As these conversations progressed, some social media users seemed to rethink their disappointment, with one writing on Thursday night that the decision-makers were in fact “wise” and “logical”.
“Now I get it,” one user said in a post with thousands of likes.
But the apparent need to assuage disappointment and promote China’s response also highlights the risks leader Xi Jinping has taken in stoking nationalist sentiments.
“Nationalism has grown under Xi Jinping, because Xi continually uses it for his purpose, to advance his agenda, but I don’t think he’s ever understood the negative side, because he thinks he can stoking nationalism, but also stopping it,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
However, on this occasion, Beijing appears to have brought the narrative under control, while Hu has become a scapegoat to stoke nationalist sentiment, Wu said.
“The ‘wolf warriors’ sometimes have to pay the price,” Wu said, using a common term for Beijing’s combative, nationalistic opinion leaders and diplomats.
Asked about the initial online backlash to China’s response on Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying gave a telling response.
“We have full confidence in the ability of our country and our government to firmly defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hua said. “The Chinese people are rational patriots.”
CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.