The U.S. Election, the Epidemic, and the Orientation of Official Chinese Opinion

The Chinese authorities and the Chinese public have expressed many conflicting views about the U.S. election. At the same time, observers of the manipulation of public opinion by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities point out that in China, where many netizens follow and comment extensively on the U.S. election, the authorities are apparently using a variety of methods to guide public opinion.

Chinese Communist Party Authorities’ Posture is Confusing

In the absence of independent opinion polls in China, it is unclear how many Chinese people are following the US election. But so far on the Internet, Chinese netizens are showing strong interest in the US election and are often emotionally invested in it. Many supporters of incumbent President Trump or Trump’s rival, former President Biden, are emotionally charged and have sharply opposing views, seeing the election of either Trump or Biden as great news or a disaster. Such opposing views about the US election have also been subtly reflected in Chinese officialdom.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “We are not interested in the U.S. election,” when asked a question about the U.S. election.

On November 5, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said, “The counting of votes in the U.S. presidential election is still underway and the results have not yet been determined. I hope that this election will proceed smoothly and smoothly. China’s attitude towards China-US relations is clear and consistent. Although there are differences between China and the United States, there is also extensive common interest and room for cooperation. Maintaining and promoting the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations is in the fundamental interests of the Chinese and U.S. peoples, and is also the common expectation of the international community. I hope the new U.S. administration and China will go in the same direction, uphold the principles of non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, focus on cooperation, manage differences and push the relationship between the two countries forward along the right track.”

Observers point out that what Le Yucheng said clearly demonstrates that Chinese officials are interested in and concerned about the US presidential election (general election). It is now unclear whether Zhao Lijian’s statement that “we are not interested in the U.S. election” was a slip of the tongue, or whether the CCP has now changed its attitude toward the U.S. election, or whether there have been differences of opinion within the CCP about the U.S. election.

Earlier, Zhao Lijian tweeted in English via US social media a conspiracy theory that the new coronavirus that is causing havoc around the world originated in a US laboratory. Chinese ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai later called the conspiracy theory “crazy talk” in an interview with US media, thus seemingly revealing the differences of opinion among the Chinese authorities over the origin of the outbreak.

It is unclear whether Cui’s comments, which appeared to refute Zhao Lijian, revealed a difference of opinion within the Chinese authorities, or whether the Chinese authorities chose to make a strategic retreat in response to the overwhelming rebuttal to Zhao’s comments.

Critics’ rebuttals of Zhao Lijian’s remarks include: if the epidemic first appeared in the United States, why did the United States not experience the large number of medical workers infected at the beginning of the epidemic as occurred in China; furthermore, if the epidemic entered China from abroad, why did it not break out in several Chinese cities at roughly the same time, but spread outward, centering on Wuhan, throughout the country and eventually the world.

The Chinese authorities have not been able to explain or refute these questions from inside or outside China. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on November 2 that, to date, the Chinese authorities have been tight-lipped about the origin of the novel coronavirus outbreak and have taken strict measures to ensure that outside researchers, including the World Health Organization, cannot travel to China to investigate the outbreak and the source of the virus.

Chinese authorities first publicized the origin of the novel coronavirus outbreak (formerly known as the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak) in a seafood market in Wuhan. Researchers later found that some of the first infected people had no contact with the market, suggesting that the seafood market was not the original or only original source of the virus.

The Chinese authorities’ lack of transparency about the outbreak and the source of the virus has led to speculation, and to President Trump’s fierce criticism that China is scourging the world and the United States by concealing the outbreak and exporting the virus to the outside world, and repeatedly calling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus. Chinese authorities have expressed outrage at Trump’s claims.

Some observers believe that the “differences between China and the United States” mentioned by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also include these differences.

Caution in the Official Media vs. Online Public Opinion

Since the U.S. entered an election year, and especially since the U.S. presidential campaign has reached a fever pitch, observers have generally noted the paucity of official Chinese media coverage and commentary on U.S. election news, and the paucity of coverage has mostly appeared to be factual, as if reporting purely objective facts.

In the aftermath of U.S. Election Day, the official media appeared to uphold this posture of reporting caution and objectivity. For example, on November 5, as the results of the U.S. presidential election were being delayed after the election, China’s official Pharma News sent out the following brief report via the social media outlet Sina Weibo.

“On the 4th of April local time, as Republican presidential candidate Trump was not only late to the polls in a number of key swing states, but his advantage over Democratic presidential candidate Biden was shrinking and even being overtaken in some states, the Trump campaign announced that it was launching a lawsuit in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, and that it would be asking for Wisconsin recount. Earlier, Trump’s team had issued a statement saying that Trump would demand an immediate recount in Wisconsin and that “several counties in Wisconsin have experienced unusual vote counts that have created doubts about the validity of the results. President Trump has the authority to demand a recount, and we are preparing to do just that.”

Under this report, Sina Weibo had a note: “Today (i.e. November 5) 14:47 Retweets over 4400.”

As of 11:00 p.m. BST on Nov. 5, the first seven comments under this brief published by Breaking News on Sina Weibo were.

–I’m going to kill myself: I’m about to lose, and I’m starting to cheat!
–weiweiyy- : Re-examined Re-reported
–Le coeur de la coeur: Trump: That’s right, I can’t afford to lose
–I’ll meet you.
–Book and Picture Time Book Club : For the sake of our country, we must go rogue to the end!
–It’s starting.
–Insight: Trump can’t sit still.

To some observers, it is clear that these clean-cut messages mocking the current President Trump reflect the current psychological dynamics of the Chinese Communist Party authorities or the CCP netizen authorities.

Netizens? The navy? A robot?

Zhu Shengwu, a former Chinese human rights lawyer who lives in Vancouver, Canada, says that it is generally believed that most of the people leaving comments on sensitive topics or topics of public concern on China’s Internet media today are obviously the “50-cent party” or “Internet water army” hired by the Chinese Communist Party.

Zhu Shengwu, who has been following the manipulation of public opinion on the CCP’s networks for years, argues that for a variety of reasons, including China’s unique national conditions, only a small number of netizens choose to bubble (speak) on the Internet, that only those who really care about an issue will leave comments, and that those who do speak are bound to have their own opinions and express them, not be so monotonous or even simply word-for-word, while we know that the CCP authorities have now adopted artificial intelligence bots as a routine operation to control public opinion.

On the other hand, a Chinese internet opinion watcher in Beijing, who asked not to be named, said in an interview with VOA that outsiders need to have a global perspective and take into account the history of the Communist Party to properly understand the seemingly serious and objective reporting and subsequent commentary by the official Pharma News.

The observer pointed out that the seemingly professional report of the surging news seems to be followed by the follow-up comments, but in fact, it is a harmony, the main theme of which is the propaganda theme prescribed by Mao Zedong, the former dictator of the Chinese Communist Party, whom current leader Xi Jinping admires: “The enemy rots day by day, we get better day by day”.

In addition, the source pointed out that Sina Weibo is one of the most tightly controlled social media outlets by the Chinese authorities, and that comments on Sina Weibo are monitored 24 hours a day by the Communist Party’s online public opinion control authorities; therefore, it is fairly certain that the main theme of the messages posted there is essentially a reflection of the views of the Chinese authorities.

Observers have also noted that, despite the CCP authorities’ tight online opinion control measures, there are still some fish-out-of-water comments that have appeared in China’s Internet history.

For example, on Chinese social media outlet Douban, one user posted: “400 million are pitching, 1.4 billion are watching.” On the Kedi community’s Cat’s Eye channel, on the other hand, someone posted: “Many people ask me: It seems like you don’t care much about the US election. I answer: yes. As a eunuch, I don’t care about other people’s sex lives, much less the quality of their sex lives. So whether or not Biden’s son takes anyone’s money, or whether or not Trump destroys the very foundation of America, has nothing to do with me.”

To some observers, the reason why the above comments, which seem to express envy of Americans having the right to vote and bitterness and anger at being completely disenfranchised, have become leaks and still exist on the CCP-controlled Internet is not because the CCP has shown net benevolence, but because they have not received much attention and the authorities are not bothered to take care of them.

Many Chinese netizens have noted that the CCP’s public opinion control measures on Chinese social media today are so meticulous and tight that comments deemed harmful to the CCP will be deleted at any time if they receive more attention, even if they receive only a few hundred or even a few dozen.