It’s described Australia as “arrogant” and the “most unfriendly country besides the United States”, threatening “long-range missile strikes” on Australian soil.
But now, China’s media mouthpiece, The Global Times, has fallen foul in its own backyard — with some of its most vocal journalists now facing a furore of their own.
The daily, state-run tabloid is widely considered the unofficial voice of Beijing’s more aggressive views, with its reporters regularly taking to its pages to taunt and smear the enemies of the largest country in the world.
Those verbal grenades, as relations continue to sour off the back of 12 months of escalating tensions, are more often than not lobbed at Australia.
“Preparing for war? Then build an antimissile system!” the outlet’s editor, Hu Xijin, tweeted in May, following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s declaration that it would be “foolish” not to appreciate the potential risk of military conflict with China over Taiwan.
“I believe once Australian troops come to Taiwan Strait to combat against the People’s Liberation Army, there is a high probability that Chinese missiles will fly toward military bases and key relevant facilities on Australian soil in retaliation.”
A March take-down by reporter Li Qingqing accused Australia of doing America’s bidding and trying to “suppress China”, declaring we were “undermining the development rights of the 1.4 billion Chinese people”, while a series of provocative cartoons were published in December attacking Australia’s Defence Force.
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But amid increasingly radical wave of nationalism sweeping China and urgings from leader Xi Jinping for state media, government officials and diplomat to portray a “loveable” image of China in their propaganda, prominent Global Times journalists have told the ABC they’re now in the firing line.
“Nationalistic commentators” and trolls are targeting writers who have expressed concerns that the rhetoric online in the country of 1.39 billion is getting too extreme, the ABC’s China correspondent Bill Birtles wrote in a piece on Saturday.
When Hu criticised a widely-condemned social media post from a Communist Party account in May, showing an image of a rocket launch in China next to an image of Covid-19 victims being cremated in India with the caption “lighting a fire in China VS lighting a fire in India”, he was criticised online for being “insufficiently aggressive in defending China’s honour against a regional rival”.
Birtles points out that things “stepped up a notch this month when several prominent users of China’s censored Twitter-like platform Weibo decided to start publicly denouncing a group of well-known writers and academics as ‘traitors’” for previously taking part in a cultural exchange program sponsored by Japan’s government.
As a result of the online hostility, a number of Global Times reporters have started issuing apologies for their previous posts.
Australian-educated writer, Gao Lei, apologised for being arrogant in his online conduct, calling for unity among China’s patriots against the real enemy, “hostile foreign forces”, Birtles reported.
Studying overseas was fine, Gao said, as long as those who take part don’t betray the “socialist core values” of Communist China.
“I studied in Australia for several years, but I’ve attacked Australia the most, even prompting a protest from Australia’s ambassador to China,” he wrote.
People suddenly turning on The Global Times and its reporters shows that the publication, its editor and his colleagues, “in the eyes of those new nationalist radicals, are old-fashioned, out-of-date fossils that are not welcome anymore”, independent Beijing-based political analyst, Wu Qiang, told the ABC.
“It’s a more radical and extreme nationalism that’s been forming over the past decade,” he said.
Australian-based Chinese political commentator, Edgar Lu, agreed, calling it a “backlash” from an “agitated crowd”.
“The agitated crowd are now turning their guns on those who agitated them in the first place,” Mr Lu said.
“The more radical you sound, the more attention and influence you get until someone from the top says ‘stop’.”