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A wave of nationalistic fervor sweeps China amid Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan | China

When news of Nancy Pelosi’s potential visit to Taiwan leaked to China’s state media late last month, there was a sense of shock and panic. News outlets condemned the US, suggesting it was a violation of the “one China principle” and that Joe Biden was “hypocritical” for saying he was unable to rein in the House speaker. For several days, this message echoed in the news outlets of the country.

The anger reverberated online through the writings of pundits and military bloggers. “The old hag,” some called Pelosi. “The old American,” others called her. Hu Xijin, a nationalist and former editor of the Global Times, even advised Chinese planes to jam Pelosi’s plane. And “if they’re still ineffective, I think we might as well shoot down Pelosi’s plane,” he wrote with much fanfare.

In today’s Chinese society, such nationalist rhetoric often resonates, especially on issues related to China’s sovereignty. Beijing considers Taiwan part of China’s territory. Generations of Chinese leaders have wanted to “take it back” and have not given up the option of a military takeover as a last resort.

For several days, Weibo hashtags criticizing Pelosi and reiterating China’s determination to contain her remained some of the most trending topics. In the following days, a bunch of defiant statements appeared in almost all official publications. Spokesmen for China’s foreign ministry, known in recent years for their “wolf of war” style, continued to talk tough, and many commentators reacted favorably to their harsh anti-American rhetoric.

“The will of the people cannot be opposed, and those who play with fire will perish by it,” Zhao Lijian said, echoing his president Xi Jinping’s warning to Biden last week. “It is believed that the American side is fully aware of China’s strong and clear message.” His boss, Hua Chunying, also invoked memories of Mao Zedong calling America a “paper tiger” in 1946: “On the surface, the reactionaries are terrifying, but not really that powerful’.

The mood was exacerbated by the warning from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). When news of Pelosi’s visit first leaked, the PLA was preparing to celebrate its 95th anniversary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Pelosi began her tour of Asia, the military vowed again that they “wouldn’t sit idly by” if the American politician ended up landing in Taiwan.

Then on Tuesday evening, Pelosi appeared in Taipei. By then, Hu’s belligerent post suggesting the downing of her flight had been deleted by Twitter for breaking the rules. “Taiwan is close to mainland China and Beijing has enough cards at hand,” Hu said shortly after the 82-year-old California Democrat’s arrival. “We will play them one by one with confidence. The PLA announces a series of actions.

It was also a huge event for Chinese media operators, despite their animosity toward Pelosi. One government website even created a live stream on its official Weibo channel. At one point, 70 million viewers tuned in simultaneously to watch Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan, with many viewers commenting “national reunification!”.

“Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan also created a sense of unity on social media, which was flooded with comments expressing support for the Chinese military and calls for unification with Taiwan,” said Manja Koetse, who runs the website WhatsOnWeibo. “Many netizens also said, ‘I hope that when I wake up tomorrow, we will be united with Taiwan.’ I had never seen such strong unification sentiments on Weibo before this week.”

Koetze added that the Pelosi saga reminded her of last year’s return of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, from Canada. “Before Meng’s arrival in China, there were days of rhetoric building up — just like this time with Pelosi. But of course Meng was a symbol of national pride, but Pelosi was a humiliation for China.

People’s Liberation Army promotion of a building in Beijing. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

After promising to respond, the PLA announced it would hold large-scale drills and missile tests around Taiwan Island from Thursday. State media said it was to show how reckless Pelosi was. The military exercises ultimately put Asia on edge and urged Asian and European leaders to exercise restraint.

Still, that wasn’t enough for some. “I’m still angry! The four-day military exercise is too short. If a normalized circum-island cruise is formed, I will admit it is not a loss!” one Weibo user wrote. Another said. “If there is no follow-up after the military exercise, then this time it is a complete failure of diplomacy and public opinion, and there is no point in talking too much.”

They are not alone. A resident of Beijing, Ou, who goes by his surname, said that when he saw Taipei 101 lit up for Pelosi in a warm welcome, it was “a huge humiliation for China.” “As a large nation of 1.4 billion people, we should not eat our words when it comes to reunifying Taiwan,” he said. “We have the capabilities.”

But Jin Lihang*, a Taiwanese living in Beijing, said he was worried. “It felt like Pelosi’s visit was just the excuse the PLA was looking for to show what it will look like when the ‘military option’ is deployed in earnest one day.” It looks like the entire country may soon be on the war footing. This is scary.

A day before the exercises began on Thursday, the Global Times quoted Herman Shuai, a retired Taiwanese lieutenant general, as saying the exercise areas were a “template” for “locking down Taiwan.” “This blocking [of Taiwan] it can be part of action plans for future joint force operations,” he said.

Hu, having just failed to hold off Pelosi, is now under fire. “Hu Xijin’s long-term rhetoric has made it clear that he loves war, wants war and relentlessly promotes it, even at the cost of stealing our country’s credibility,” said Ren Yi, another influential pro-government blogger with millions of followers who goes by the pseudonym Chairman Rabbit.

He asked, “Hu Xijin is harming the country and hurting the people. What is he really looking for?’

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person