Chinese nationalism is out of control

Foreigners and all foreign brands are not safe.

August 10, on Huaihai Street in Suzhou, China, a young Chinese woman cosplayer wearing a kimono for a photoshoot was suddenly surrounded by 10 policemen and taken away.  She was arrested simply because she was wearing a kimono.  She and her photographer were detained for five hours and was only allowed to leave at 1 am the following day.  

During her detention, Chinese police officers “educated” her, forced her to write a 500-word letter of self-criticism, thoroughly scrutinized her phone’s content, deleted her photos and confiscated her kimono.

Huaihai Street, home to many Japanese establishments, is commonly referred to as Suzhou’s Japanese Street and is known as a Japanese folk culture area.  It was modeled after the Dotonbori area in Osaka, Japan.  It was built in the 1990s as a tourist attraction and even had kimono rental shops for visitors to take photos with.  

But now, HuaiHai Street is a target of ultra-nationalists who are hell-bent on picking quarrels and provoking trouble with all things Japanese.  Due to the ultra-nationalists’ relentlessly and vocally picking quarrels and provoking trouble, at least seven Chinese cities have in July canceled Japanese-style summer festivals, known as Matsuri.  

When former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on July 8, many brainwashed Chinese celebrated his death and lauded the assassin as a hero.  Shop and restaurant owners gave out discount and free gifts.  

Even official entities such as the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), Henan Communist Youth League, and Hunan Province police, among others, joined in the celebration.  Both officials and the general public alike were all brainwashed by the Chinese Communist Party to hate Abe for supporting Taiwan, an independent country claimed by China.

Xi Jinping, a dictator in the mold of Mao Zedong, starts another Cultural Revolution

The single most important factor agitating anti-foreign sentiment is the rise of Xi Jinping.  Xi, who sees himself as an ardent follower of Mao and continues with Mao’s class revolution, uses ultra-nationalism to unite the Chinese against any challenges, internal or external, to his authority.  

Domestically, Xi, a dictator, has installed a totalitarian regime and Maoist-style personality cult to consolidate his power and pursue the systematic elimination of his political opponents.  On the global stage, he promoted heavily the idea that China is on the rise and western powers are in decline, and projects China’s power using both coercive foreign policy and aggressive military presence.

In his “people’s struggle”, Xi mobilizes everyone, including ordinary citizens, students, school teachers, diplomats, law enforcement, and military, and turns all of them into his personal army of ultra-nationalists.

On National Security Education Day, students are taught about spies and terrorists.  Students and teachers are encouraged to monitor and report on each other over any deviation from party lines and when anyone shows empathy for universal values like freedom and democracy.

Neighborhood watch groups like the “National Security People’s Line-of-Defense” groups have mushroomed all over China to report on potential dissidents and “suspicious” foreigners. The Ministry of State Security offered rewards of up to US$15,000 to induce citizens to report “suspicious” activities.

On August 15, the Hong Kong government “recommended” all kindergarten, primary and secondary school teachers to study and learn Xi’s July 1 speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China where he extoled the importance of patriotic education and being governed by patriots.  In mainland China, the study of “Xi Jinping Thought” has become the norm across schools, government and state-owned companies.

The 1.4 billion Chinese citizens and foreign expatriates living in China are under constant surveillance.  They are constantly watched and recorded by police CCTVs that are everywhere: on the streets, subways, hotel lobbies, offices, etc.  Their phones are tracked and their online chats are monitored.

Living under a police state

Chinese ultra-nationalists now see hostile foreign forces at every turn and anti-foreign paranoia is here to stay.  Kimono rental shops have shut down and the Huaihai Street has become deserted.  

In a normal, free and open country, police officers have no right to intervene and arrest citizens simply because they disapprove of their behavior, unless the citizens broke the law.  But China is not normal, under Xi’s totalitarian rule, Chinese citizens do not have the freedom to buy, wear, say and think what they want.

The kimono incident has no doubt harmed businesses, but the real damage is that it has also glaringly shown to the whole world that all foreigners, not only the Japanese, are not safe in China.  It is a tragedy both for the Chinese public as well as foreign brands, companies and expatriates living, working and operating in China.

Today, the target is kimono, tomorrow it can be South Korean kimchi, French or Italian designer clothing, or U.S. products like Coca cola, jeans and iPhones.  Any foreign company or country that is perceived not to show enough loyalty or toe the Chinese Communist Party’s red lines is fair game to the ultra-nationalists.

In fact, in November 2016, China-friendly Singapore was the target of Chinese nationalists.  Nine Singaporean Terrex armored vehicles, along with other equipment, were seized in Hong Kong, while in transit.

Back then, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stressed the importance of abiding by international rules in the South China Sea, after China rejected a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated its “Nine-Dash Claim” of almost the whole of South China Sea.  China was not happy and accused Singapore of siding with the U.S.

With Xi fanning the flames of a second Cultural Revolution, Chinese ultra-nationalism, now at an all-time high, is spiraling out of control.  In China, everything is politicized and Xi’s interest comes above everyone’s else.  Xi is even willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of the Chinese economy to achieve his political ambition.

To protect his interest, Xi incites hatred, a base human instinct easy to manipulate but once fully inflamed, difficult to control.  This is the reality that foreign brands and companies are operating under.  Business and politics are intertwined.  There is a huge degree of uncertainty and instability and foreign CEOs and investors may step onto a political minefield anytime, whether of their own making or not.  The winds of change may at any moment changes direction and strike at a different target. 

Photo credit: iStock/ Thirawatana Phaisalratana. Two female tourists wearing traditional Japanese kimono in old village at Nagano Prefecture, Japan. 

Lee Kok Leong

Lee Kok Leong

Kok Leong, executive editor, has overall editorial responsibility for the direction and focus of Maritime Fairtrade. He has two decades of working experiences, including holding senior regional roles in business-to-business (B2B) print and online publications. He enjoys his work as a journalist, and regards it as a calling.

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