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China's internet is filled with well-wishes for earthquake-stricken Taiwan — and veiled references that the PLA can help

Matthew Loh   

China's internet is filled with well-wishes for earthquake-stricken Taiwan — and veiled references that the PLA can help
  • Taiwan's 7.2-magnitude earthquake has drawn seemingly friendly messages on China's social media.
  • The well-wishes are a striking departure from the usual hostile rhetoric toward Taiwan.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Taiwan on Wednesday morning prompted a wave of concerned messages on mainland China's social media, diverting from the usual hostile rhetoric toward the self-governed island.

Footage posted online of the eastern Taiwanese county of Hualien, the quake's epicenter, showed collapsed buildings and a multi-story building tilted at a nearly 45-degree angle.

The quake has killed four people and injured about 50 as of Wednesday noon local time, with about 20 more people still trapped and needing rescue, Reuters reported.

On Weibo, China's version of X, the typical talk of war with Taiwan, gave way to thousands of comments wishing safety for those caught in the tremors. Like many of China's social media platforms, Weibo is heavily censored and moderated.

"This time, it feels like the earthquake was very strong in many places. Wishing for safety," one top comment said.

Discussion of the earthquake soared to the top of Weibo's trending topics, reaching 520 million views in an hour, per data seen by Business Insider.

The response is indicative of online attitudes toward Taiwan, with Beijing long maintaining that the island should come under mainland rule and that its people belong to China as "one family."

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has postured aggressively on matters of potential war to achieve that end — opening the way for a rise in hostile rhetoric online against Taiwan. However, kinetic conflict is still widely viewed on social media as only one of several options for unification.

Polls show that Taiwan's people are increasingly balking at the idea of being part of mainland China, and Chinese disdain for that opposition was on full display even amid the well-wishes on Wednesday.

"I hope everyone is safe (except the Taiwan independence separatist forces)," one person wrote in a top-liked comment for a state media report on the earthquake.

"May the patriotic Chinese be safe" was a frequently posted phrase on Wednesday.

Some suggested that the People's Liberation Army, China's armed forces, step in.

"In such a big earthquake, I personally feel that it is necessary for the People's Liberation Army to provide support," one person wrote.

It's a jab at Taiwan's autonomy that technically doesn't threaten invasion. In China, the PLA is typically mobilized to provide mass manpower for relief and rescue after major disasters.

In 2008, for example, the PLA scrambled some 130,000 troops in response to an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Sichuan province, though some of the soldiers were reportedly unprepared for the relief work.

Fears of a cross-strait war between Beijing and Taipei have burgeoned in recent years as Xi continues to step up talk of military readiness and Taiwan's ruling party builds support for resisting the mainland.

Observers warn that war is likely to drag the US into conflict with China, posing disastrous consequences for the global economy. One expert previously told BI that the effects could be worse for the world than the 1929 stock market crash.

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