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The Ohio train derailment is a mess for the US. The Twitter of China is reacting with glee.

Matthew Loh   

The Ohio train derailment is a mess for the US. The Twitter of China is reacting with glee.
  • People on Weibo are relishing the chance to mock the US after a 50-car train derailed in Ohio.
  • Some users are claiming without evidence that the chemical wreck is a "Chernobyl moment in the United States."

Some of China's social-media users are having a field day over the 50-car train that derailed in rural Ohio while carrying toxic chemicals.

The disastrous derailment near the town of East Palestine on February 3 prompted authorities to deploy a "controlled release" of hazardous material amid fears that the train cars could explode.

Authorities have lifted an evacuation order and said it's safe to go home, but some residents aren't fully convinced, reporting that animals like chicken and fish in nearby towns have died.

On Tuesday, four of the top 20 "hot searches" on Weibo, the Twitter of China, featured videos or news blog articles about the derailment. And users are seizing the opportunity to sneer at the West again.

"The Chernobyl moment in the United States, but it's worse than Chernobyl. After all, they don't care about the lives of the people," one commenter wrote on the Communist Youth League Central Committee's page. The comment drew, without substantiation, a comparison between the Ohio incident and the 1986 nuclear disaster in modern-day Ukraine that's now considered one of history's greatest disasters.

"Cancer of the Earth, America," wrote one top comment on the youth league's post about animals dying due to the derailment.

"Will it affect my salary? Will it affect my mortgage?" wrote another, in an apparent jab against Western models of capitalism and democracy.

When a video emerged of a broadcast reporter being handcuffed and arrested while covering the derailment, comments about press freedom in the US started appearing on Weibo.

"The United States is really a free and democratic country," a user wrote with an emoji of a wolf making a funny face — a common way of denoting sarcasm on the platform.

China currently ranks 175th on the Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries, while the US is 42nd.

Anti-America narratives often left to ferment on social media

Bloggers broadcasting anti-West remarks aren't necessarily true indicators of sentiment on the ground in China. However, they are part of a common narrative on the platform — one that wastes no chance to jeer at America as a dysfunctional, imperialist nation blinded by greed and steeped in hypocrisy.

It's rhetoric that's regularly repeated by the "wolf warrior" diplomats of China's Foreign Ministry. And it often bubbles up — and stays up — on China's heavily censored Weibo. The sentiment was also on clear display after a Chinese balloon, described by the Pentagon as a surveillance device, was shot down over the US on February 4.

Widespread US media coverage and discussion of the Chinese balloon incensed Chinese state media and Weibo users. Many users accused the US of making groundless claims and "hyping up China threat."

"US Government: Don't change the subject, these poisonous clouds are 'controlled emissions,' let's talk about China's 'spy balloons,'" one person wrote mockingly on state media CCTV's posts.

The rhetoric now seen on Weibo echoes how Chinese officials in the recent past accused the US of "hypocrisy of the self-styled advocate of press freedom," alleging "unreasonable oppression" of Chinese media outlets.

The irony in some of the posts stands out. "Be sure to be prepared for turmoil and change in American society. After all, anything can happen in a country that can arrest journalists reporting this," wrote blogger MaVision of the train derailment.

China, meanwhile, has a history of detaining reporters, and is the country with the most journalists in captivity at 127, Reporters Without Borders reported in 2021. One of its most recent arrests involved BBC reporter Edward Lawrence, who said he was beaten by Chinese police in Shanghai in November.

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