SINGAPORE (Associated Press) – While the West condemns Russia, President Vladimir Putin has outspoken supporters in China, where the ruling Communist Party tells its people that they are other targets of US-led harassment.
If Russia is destroyed, we will be next. “That’s for sure,” said Wang Yongchun, a retiree in Beijing. “The United States wants to take over the world.”
Comments like these reflect the position of the ruling party, which is the closest thing Putin has to a major ally: the war must stop but the United States is to blame.
President Xi Jinping’s government tried to distance itself from the Russian offensive but avoided criticizing Moscow. The government offered to act as a mediator and denounced trade and financial sanctions against Russia.
The ruling party’s control of all Chinese media and extensive Internet censorship make it difficult to gauge public opinion. But what the party allows online and requires the media to publish makes clear what the public wants to think.
The media was asked last week to publish only pro-Russia content and censor anti-Russian or pro-Western views, according to a copy of the instructions posted on the social media account of the Beijing News. This post was later deleted.
On the Internet and in social media, expressions of sympathy for Ukraine and support for Russia but not criticism of Moscow appear.
“When war begins, aren’t the sons of ordinary people the ones who serve as cannon fodder?” A post signed by Da Ke Ming Yi on social media platform Weibo said. “Those who died are the children of ordinary people.”
A letter signed by five professors from prominent universities criticizing Russia for attacking a weaker neighbor briefly appeared on social media before it was deleted.
“We stand against unjust wars,” said academics from schools including Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of the universities of many ruling party leaders.
Comments posted by the nationalists criticized the professors for failing to uphold the ruling party’s official position of neutrality.
The ruling party has spent decades using textbooks and fully state-controlled media to nurture a sense of national injustice. The United States is accused of trying to obstruct China’s rise to its rightful position in global leadership.
State media repeat Beijing’s position that the United States and its European allies are to blame for the Ukraine war because they failed to respond to Russian concerns that it should prevent its democratic neighbor from joining NATO, the Western military alliance.
This reflects China’s complaints that Washington and its allies are interfering in its internal affairs and issues of national sovereignty, including its claim to Taiwan, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and in Xinjiang, the far western region where China has been accused of perpetrating. Arrest of more than a million Uyghurs.
As a historical event, Zeng Bowen, a 38-year-old engineer, said Russia’s attack was “not good,” but that “people think the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is because the United States fomented the unrest.”
The state-run Capital News urged the public to align with the ruling party: “The position of the nation is our position.”
“China always adheres to a fair and responsible attitude, calling on all parties to exercise restraint, calm the situation and return to dialogue and negotiations,” the statement said.
However, the newspaper appears to support Putin’s claim that Ukraine become a buffer zone between Russia and Europe and give up the possibility of NATO membership.
“At the end of the day, Ukraine should be a bridge between East and West, not a frontier of confrontation between major powers,” Capital News said.
Online comments called on China to support Russia by buying its exports of oil, gas and other goods.
“Let the Russian Embassy sell their goods on the live broadcast. Let’s show them the purchasing power of China,” said a comment signed by Bao Zhou Guang Xiaobang on Weibo. It got 42,000 likes.
A separate comment calling for China to maintain normal trade with Russia, an implicit rejection of sanctions, received nearly 80,000 likes.
Social media platforms urged users to act responsibly and said they had removed thousands of posts about the attack on Ukraine.
Douyin, a short video service run by the Chinese owner of TikTok, said it had removed more than 3,500 videos and 12,100 comments due to “vulgar, disparaging, inflammatory, and unfriendly comments”.
Popular messaging service WeChat also complained about “vulgar posts” which it said had a “negative impact on cyberspace”.
She said some users had “taken the opportunity to spread bad information about current international affairs,” including comments downplaying the war such as crude jokes about “getting course credits by going to Ukraine and fighting in the war” and asking “Ukrainian beauties to come to China, The platform said.
The WeChat post was later shared by China Internet Monitoring Unit, China Cyberspace Administration.
Weibo said it has removed more than 4,000 posts that were obscene and mocking war. It said more than 10,000 accounts had been closed.
“Peaceful environments don’t come easy,” the company said in a social media post. It called on users to “maintain an objective and rational attitude” and participate in the discussion “in a reasonable manner”.
AP Video Producer Olivia Chang in Beijing contributed to this report.