China Nationalists Mock Government Inaction Over U.S. Senators' Taiwan Visit

China's largest social media platform is being overrun with nationalistic sentiment this week as a deluge of online comments mock the Chinese government's familiar rhetoric and tepid response following Sunday's visit to Taiwan by three U.S. senators.

Weibo, which boasts more than half a billion active monthly users, has become the breeding ground for an "especially toxic variant" of jingoism, which has left elements of the Chinese public with "high expectations" when it comes to Taiwan, one analyst told Newsweek.

China's state-owned media outlets led the charge on June 6 when senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Chris Coons (D-DE) made a brief stop at Songshan Airport in the Taiwanese capital to announce the Biden administration's intention to donate 750,000 U.S-made vaccines to the island.

Chinese commentators, including the prominent Global Times chief editor Hu Xijin, appeared particularly aggrieved by the lawmakers' having been ferried to and from Taipei in a conspicuous U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III. It marked the first time in over four decades an American military aircraft had openly landed in Taiwan—an apparent red line that, once crossed, would naturally require a display of Chinese resolve for its wantaway territory.

U.S. Senators Visit Taiwan Airport
A delegation comprising senators Tammy Duckworth (3rd L), Christoper Coons (C) and Dan Sullivan (2nd L), pose for photographs with Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (3nd R) and American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen (2nd R) following their arrival at Songshan Airport in Taipei on June 6, 2021. PEI CHEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Instead, indignant social media users have found themselves criticizing a seemingly tame response from the Chinese government, following what they perceived as a historic change in the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship.

A Global Times Weibo post carrying a statement by China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was overwhelmed on Monday by comments ridiculing Beijing's "strong opposition" and its filing of a diplomatic protest with Washington.

There was even the faintest hint of dissatisfaction with Chinese President Xi Jinping, under whose leadership the country's foreign policy has become more assertive, leading to a brand of government-level flag-waving nationalism known as "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy.

"It looks like [China] has no bottom line," one Weibo user wrote. "Stop these verbal protests—show me some action," another said.

"No bottom line, yet [he] wants a third term. [He's] going to have a hard time," a third commenter added in an apparent reference to Xi's leadership ambitions.

A fourth person wrote: "It looks like Taiwan will never be unified."

Similar comments were found under a statement by China's defense ministry on Tuesday, despite the usual strongly worded warning.

"I'm tired of listening to this," a user wrote, before a second added: "I laughed reading this. I know [these words] by heart."

"Where exactly is the bottom line and where is the red line? You said a military aircraft landing in Taiwan would constitute crossing a red line, so what now?" another user said.

A fourth added: "The U.S. military can land in Taiwan but the People's Liberation Army cannot, so whose territory and whose internal affairs is it?"

Hu, the Global Times editor-in-chief, was also among those heavily criticized for the Chinese government's perceived inaction. Weibo netizens reposted an editorial he wrote last August, in which he warned that an American military aircraft arriving in Taiwan would signal the start of a Taiwan Strait conflict.

Having already escalated the newspaper's hawkish rhetoric over the past year, Hu appeared to back down on Sunday, saying: "China controls when and how it loses its temper. The Taiwan authorities can only wait and see."

Sense Hofstede, a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the phenomenon on Weibo "is the consequence of Beijing having nurtured Chinese nationalism into an especially toxic variant."

Liberal views and those critical of the leadership "are expunged," leaving behind a "hostile environment," Hofstede told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"Chinese nationalism is aggrieved ethnonationalism. It is a combination of belief in one's superiority and belief in one's victimhood. China is morally good and supposed to be dominant, but has been betrayed by foreign imperialists and traitors and weaklings in its midst. Given that Taiwanese are claimed to be Chinese in this story, that means they are extra contemptible," he explained.

According to Hofstede's analysis, the Chinese government has created "high expectations when it comes to Taiwan." "By ideological necessity, pronouncements by the state cannot admit the real situation of Taiwanese public opinion, have to exude confidence in the eventual settlement and historical trend, and threaten punishment."

However, he cautioned against attaching too much significance to online sentiment in China.

"Nationalists have taken over Weibo, driving out even more people. Most Chinese people do think that Taiwan is part of China, but may not support the aggressive and bellicose nationalism that the Global Times and angry extremists push," Hofstede said.

The analyst noted Beijing did not need to wield its military in order to placate the Chinese public, at least not in the short term before Xi's expected re-election next year.

U.S. Air Force Flies Senators to Taiwan
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III carrying U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Chris Coons (D-DE) prepares to land at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, on June 6, 2021. Southwest Airspace of TW