OPINION: China's New 'Softy Power' Could Spell Trouble for Taiwan

OPINION: China's New 'Softy Power' Could Spell Trouble for Taiwan
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Chinese emissaries are emerging as world leaders in the field of simulated falling down and whinging.

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A series of ridiculous incidents picked out by Taipei-based Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson highlight a disturbing trend that has emerged over the last few weeks. With a couple of Hong Kong security guards becoming the latest to put Neymar to shame with their theatrics, Olsson observed on Facebook that falling to the ground and/or (literally) screaming blue murder seems to have become a new fad among Chinese tourists, journalists and now, even, security personnel.

China's lame attempts to hoist Western nations with their own petards on human rights issues are nothing new, but a physical dimension has now been added, turning what had hitherto been limited to Ionescoesque subversions of language into a fully blown Theatre of Cruelty.

The recent hat-trick of own goals kicked off with the ludicrous antics of a family of Chinese tourists who were ejected from the lobby of a Stockholm hostel. They showed up at midnight with a booking for the next day, and when they were told they couldn't crash on the couches until check-in (some 14-odd hours later), they did so anyway.

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Credit: AP / TPG
China's wanna-be expert falling downers would do well to study Neymar's technique.

According to one commentator on the comments thread of Olsson's blog on the incident, the son apparently went on a little late-night ramble (funny how he later spoke of the family's terror at being exposed to the dangers of the Stockholm streets at night) and picked up another Chinese tourist at a neighboring hotel. He brought her back to the hostel to join the gang in loafing in the lobby, which appears to have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

With their ranks swelling by the minute, the cadgers were – unsurprisingly – repeatedly asked to sling their hooks. When they refused, the police were called. Lo and behold: Having shown no previous signs of frailty, the father was then suddenly struck down with a mystery ailment. After being removed with the bare minimum of force, they threw themselves on the pavement outside (the son noticeably doing so with the utmost care so as not to hurt himself) and started crying. The son wailed semi-coherently about the supposed brutality of the Swedish police and later brazenly lied about being beaten up by them.

As I have observed here in my reflection on the 2011 London riots, Swedish police have consistently been held up as a paradigm for the efficacy of restraint in handling potentially volatile situations. An example of this made headlines a few years back when a group of Swedish cops on holiday in New York defused a fracas on the subway with trademark cool aplomb.

Despite hilariously delusional statements to the contrary by some Chinese commentators, cops in China are known for a rather more heavy-handed approach to "public disorder." Just witness the conduct of the Chengguan [city security personnel], the very name of whom has become a byword for wanton thuggery.

And you don't need to be kicking up a fuss to catch a beatdown – just refusing to work gets you kicked shitless. Of course, there are decent police in China too, but when someone is refusing to leave a place they are not entitled to be in after being asked nicely, some degree of physical force becomes unavoidable.

A couple of videos of the debacle in Stockholm quickly emerged and can be seen on Olsson's blog. Here's one of them for a taster of just how embarrassingly childish their behavior was:

The Chinese embassy in Sweden weighed in turning what was already an ignominious incident into an another example of just how oblivious the Chinese authorities seem to perceptions of them in the West. (Perhaps they are not and they just don't care and this kind of stunt is merely intended to stoke nationalistic fires back home – a time-honoured tactic of governments, particularly repressive ones, trying to distract from real issues.)

Olsson documents some of the follow-up statements by China's Ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou, who gave interviews with two Swedish dailies, the latter of which contained a vitriolic personal attack on Olsson, part of a wider campaign against journalists who don't toe the Communist Party line.

Gui is every inch the archetype of an obdurate CCP apparatchik. I genuinely often wonder what these automatons are like in their private lives, if they have such things. Do they have mates with whom they are able to kick back and let their oily duck's-arse hair down? Do they ever do or say anything intuitively? Are they capable of flexibility or spontaneity?

The second incident featured the screeching harridan below, a Chinese state media "journalist" named Kong Linlin who interrupted a fringe event on Hong Kong democracy at the Conservative Party Conference a couple of weeks back.

Though some have pointed out the student volunteer whom Kong slaps had first laid a hand on her, witnesses have affirmed that the incident began when Kong started heckling speaker Benedict Rogers, chair and cofounder of Hong Kong Watch, a human rights and democracy NGO, which was established in the wake of the Umbrella Movement protests of 2014.

In response to the assertion that he was actually "pro-China," though anti the country's current regime, the 48-year-old began screaming "liar," telling him that he wasn't even Chinese (so had no right to comment), and calling the Hong Kong activists present "fake Chinese" and "traitors." As the student volunteer attempted to get her to leave, she shouted "Hong Kong puppet" and called those assisting him his "owners." After the slap, she hollered "Oh, how democratic UK!" (It's amazing how robotic and devoid of personality these types sound even when they're trying to project sarcasm – a device that really requires a little variation in tone.)

Interestingly, it has subsequently come to light that Ms Kong might have had her nationalistic fervor stoked by the reported expulsion of her son from a British school for poor grades, truancy and – you'll never believe this – bullying. As I don't want to link to the English-language news source responsible for that one, a quick Google should do the trick.

Though this case is markedly different from the case of the Zengs, the attempt to turn the tables by hollering about human rights and unfair/aggressive treatment is the common thread. Like clockwork, there were demands for an apology from China's embassy in the UK, with officials claiming she had been assaulted. Good luck with that. The argument is that she was just a journalist "expressing her opinion."

As the Chinese authorities are none-too-clear about the distinction between "journalist" and "party mouthpiece," it's unsurprising that they think her job as a European correspondent for CCTV is to shout abuse at people rather than ask them questions.

Finally, we have perhaps the most ignominious incident of the lot – the three stooges. When people who are meant to be guaranteeing the physical safety of others start diving to the floor, you know you're in trouble. The acting here is truly lamentable and one really has to wonder if these guys were under direct orders to scupper this pro-democracy protest with their cringeworthy simulation.

Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised at such melodramatics given that feigning injury in public is relatively popular pursuit in China. The most obvious example is the phenomenon of "run-and-hit" fakers, a problem that has in part contributed to the shocking examples of indifference to genuine, life-threatening accidents that have gone viral over the years – the case of Xiao Yue the two-year-old girl who was run over and left to die in the street in 2011 being perhaps the best-known example. This analysis from the Lowy Institute, which emphasises the point about altruism being risky in China, states that such attempted frauds are rare but the (admittedly hilarious) video below would suggest otherwise.

Playing the victim and accusing people of "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people" is a decades-old CCP tactic for registering displeasure. When publicly uttered by whichever transgressor Beijing feels must show contrition, the phrase carries a strong whiff of show-trial absurdity as was the case with Olsson's compatriot Peter Dahlin in 2016.

However, the current enthusiasm for milking even the most trivial of incidents and demanding apologies for "human rights" infractions seems to have reached an apogee. Worse, still, while the advent of social media has exposed these incidents for the sham that they are, in this post-truth world, the blatancy of the faking doesn't seem to make a blind bit of difference.

All of this does not bode well for Taiwan and other perceived miscreants. The "hurt feelings" line had been used in conjunction with Taiwan and other "internal affairs of China" on many occasions over the years, but now the CCP appears to be upping the ante. With seemingly anything possible in Beijing's Bizarro World, how long before China casts itself as a whimpering Walter the Softy to Taiwan's belligerent Dennis the Menace?

Read Next: Video of Human Rights Lawyer Yu Wensheng Highlights China's Abuse of Detainees

Editor David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)

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