Thai netizens jeer at Beijing's video that mocks American response to coronavirus

BANGKOK – A Chinese-produced animation mocking the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic appears to have backfired on Thai social media, drawing a deluge of derisive comments about Beijing on Facebook.

The animation of Lego-like figurines shows an imaginary conversation between a masked terracotta warrior and the Statue of Liberty as representations of China and the US respectively.

In reply to the warrior’s announcement, “We have discovered a new virus,” the Statue of Liberty replies: “So what? It’s only a flu.”

The video, which comes with a logo of China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency, is the latest salvo from Beijing in its spat with Washington over the origins of the Covid-19 virus and efforts to contain it.

Officials from the US, now the hardest-hit country, with more than 66,000 virus-related deaths, claim that the outbreak began in a Wuhan laboratory and Beijing covered up the scale of the crisis in order to stockpile medical supplies.

Titled Once Upon A Virus, the video was uploaded on YouTube by Xinhua on Wednesday (April 29), and shared on Facebook by China’s embassies in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam over the weekend.

While it mustered a mixed and relatively muted reaction elsewhere, it drew a spirited response from Thais, who bombarded the Chinese embassy’s Facebook page with rejoinders.

“There’s only one country that locked up whistleblower and tried to cover up the epidemic,” wrote Facebook user Leo Simachokedee, among the some 400 people who responded to the embassy’s post.

He was referring to Dr Li Wenliang, an Wuhan ophthalmologist who was summoned by the police to sign a letter that he had made “false comments” after he tried to warn fellow doctors in a chat group about the outbreak in late December.

Beijing exonerated Dr Li after his death in February, saying local police had acted improperly.

“Don’t treat the world like you treat your people,” wrote Napat Theerapisute. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Seriously, this content is not proper for the embassy,” wrote Nithi Thongpee.

Another Facebook user, Whitthit Phopa, wrote: “Instead of doing something like this, it’s easier to… find ways to heal people regardless of nationality. That would be more becoming for a world leader.”

Thai pro-democracy activist Nuttaa Mahattana weighed in on Monday (May 4), calling it “low-grade propaganda” in her Facebook comment.

Some users even posted pictures of Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square and Winnie the Pooh – a cartoon character used to allude to Chinese President Xi Jinping often scrubbed out from Chinese social media.

Thailand’s netizens made headlines last month in an online confrontation with pro-Beijing nationalists who took offence when a Thai celebrity retweeted a post referring to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong as a “country”.

With sardonic humour, the Thai Twitter users deflected Chinese insults and lobbed barbed memes of their own, eventually garnering support from pro-democracy camps in Taiwan and Hong Kong that coalesced into a “Milk Tea Alliance”.

It prompted the Chinese embassy in Bangkok to release a statement saying the “recent online noises only reflect bias and ignorance of its maker, which does not in any way represent the standing stance of the Thai government nor the mainstream public opinion of the Thai People”.

Chulalongkorn University academic Wasana Wongsurawat, who teaches and researches modern Chinese history, says Thai netizens who oppose the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha view China unfavourably as its ally.

The online outburst, she told The Straits Times, “is more a reflection of the weakness of the current regime in Thailand and much less to do with the (China) itself”.

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