China Fumbles Ukraine Evacuations After Mocking Those Who Prepared

China has evacuated approximately 3,000 of its roughly 6,000 nationals in Ukraine. Before Russia’s invasion, the Chinese Embassy in Kyiv repeatedly denied the need for an evacuation, even as other governments urged their citizens to leave the country. On February 28, a Weibo user posted screenshots of Ukraine-related reports on various countries’ evacuation efforts. All of the reports, dated between February 17 and 27, were sourced from official Chinese media outlets such as Global Times, Beijing Daily, People’s Daily, and iFeng. The timeline of the screenshots shows that the Chinese government had ample forewarning of evacuation activities, but their efficiency lagged far behind that of other countries. Chinese state propaganda organs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs found time to promote “patriotism,” while neglecting the physical safety of Chinese citizens in Ukraine, thus “combining their efforts to place compatriots in danger.”

Candi蹦蹦:A chronological record of some “Not-The-Onion” news. [See CDT Chinese for a clickable gallery of the compiled screenshots]

CDT has compiled and translated a selection of the comments under the timeline post

@味增柑橘醋:Really a case of “great nation, little people.” We’re lowlier than dust.

@盗草人frank: Malicious screenshots, malicious compilation, malicious satire. Malicious exposure of past humiliations, malicious Weibo posting. No screenshots! No compilation! No satire! No exposing past humiliations! No Weibo posting! No malice at all!!! No breathing! No resistance!

@金融法小学生:Does posting compilations like this violate Weibo’s “basic law”? [Chinese]

The delayed evacuation was characterized by mixed messages and sudden reversals. The Chinese government instructed its citizens to display a Chinese flag on their cars—only to reverse course two days later and warn citizens not to reveal their nationality. A similar flip-flop occurred around chartered evacuation flights. The Chinese Embassy in Ukraine announced that it had chartered flights home for all Chinese citizens without offering any specifics on the airport or the date, only to later cancel those plans due to the impossibility of flying private aircraft in a war zone. (Later, some Chinese nationals were flown back to China on chartered flights from Romania.) At South China Morning Post, Cyril Ip reported that some Chinese citizens have faced harassment in Ukraine for their government’s perceived pro-Russia stance

A Chinese businesswoman in Kyiv told state tabloid Global Times that she had been harassed on the street. “Some agitated Ukrainian youngsters assume that China must be siding with Russia,” she was quoted as saying.

[…] Meanwhile, a student claimed in a Weibo post that nearly 200 Chinese nationals at the Kharkiv Aviation Institute had been told by the embassy that no vehicles were available to collect them. “Our safety isn’t guaranteed,” he wrote. “May our country help us evacuate to a safe place and return to China soon.”

The post was deleted after criticism from other students in Ukraine, who said the embassy was doing everything it could for stranded Chinese. The student later said the Chinese embassy was working to support their evacuation plan. [Source]

The Chinese government has studiously avoided criticizing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine—and still refuses to term it one. Instead, it has repeatedly put the onus of the conflict on NATO’s eastward expansion into “Russia’s doorstep.” China’s criticism of NATO notwithstanding, NATO allies have facilitated the evacuation of Chinese citizens in the face of invasion. A Chinese diplomat personally led a contingent of 106 Chinese students to safety in Poland. 

China’s ability to protect its citizens living overseas became a point of pride for Chinese nationalists due to the wildly successful war-film franchise “Wolf Warrior.” “Wolf Warrior II” ends with a clip of a Chinese passport embossed with a reminder: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, don’t give up when you encounter dangers abroad! Please remember, behind you stands a strong motherland!” Chinese state-media often references “Wolf Warrior” when conducting evacuations. In 2017, for example, CGTN, China’s international state television broadcaster, released a video that spliced clips from the film with real footage of the People’s Liberation Army Navy evacuating flag-waving Chinese citizens from Yemen as an officer tells them, “President Xi has sent out warships to bring you home.” But real life doesn’t always mirror film. One Chinese doctor got in trouble after mocking the concept when he was stranded in the Pacific during a typhoon. “There’s no such thing as ‘Wolf Warrior’ in real life, don’t even think about it,” he posted on Weibo. At The Wall Street Journal, Sha Hua reported on the Chinese ambassador in Kyiv’s belated realization that the “Wolf Warrior” franchise does not offer a realistic blueprint for wartime evacuations:

In recent days, Mr. Fan, the Chinese ambassador in Kyiv, has made a more concerted effort to address Ukrainian sensibilities. “We respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said in the Saturday video, adding he hoped the crisis would be resolved through negotiations.

[…] In his Saturday video, Mr. Fan acknowledged China’s inexperience in such overseas crises. “In the past few days, like everyone else, we kept hearing the sound of sirens, explosions and gunshots and ran for cover,” he said. “We have previously only seen such scenes in movies.”

For Mr. [Adam] Ni, publisher of China Neican, the movie reference was a clear nod to the Wolf Warrior franchise. “The real world doesn’t work in the same way as in the Wolf Warrior movies,” he said. [Source]

The delayed evacuation has had real consequences. One Chinese student in eastern Ukraine was wounded by gunfire while fleeing to western Ukraine. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined to reveal whether Russian or Ukrainian forces were responsible, but on Weibo, where the news garnered over 130 million views, a number of people blamed Ukrainian “Nazis.” Chinese state media debunked a rumor that two Chinese students had been killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv. 

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