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Chinese News Anchor Suspended for Referring to Japan Earthquake as ‘Retribution’ — Radio Free Asia

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Hainan have suspended a local news anchor after he used the word “retribution” in connection with the recent earthquake in Japan’s Noto Peninsula.

“Japan has been hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake – retribution?” Hainan Radio and Television news anchor Xiao Chenghao wrote in the title of a commentary video on his personal social media account on Monday.

The provincial state broadcaster said in a statement on its official Weibo account on Tuesday that Hao was currently under investigation and was suspended from his job.

“We have set up an investigation into the inappropriate comments made by our presenter Xiao Chenghao on his personal social media account,” Hainan Radio and TV said. “He will not be working for the time being.”

A powerful 7.6 magnitude quake struck north-central Japan on Monday, killing dozens of people under collapsed buildings and sparking tsunami warnings along the coast. The death toll on Wednesday was 62.

The Japanese government applied the Disaster Relief Act towards 35 cities, 11 towns and 1 village in 4 prefectures including Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui in order to lead the national-level relief operations, the Red Cross reported on Jan. 2.

At least 30,251 people are now living in evacuation centers run by the local authorities in Ishikawa Prefecture, it said.

Members of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions protest outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong after Tokyo announced it was going ahead with releasing waste water from its Fukushima nuclear power plant, Aug. 22, 2023. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Xiao’s suspension comes after a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment swept China in August, as Beijing criticized the release of wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, sparking fears of tainted seafood and environmental damage.

Japanese businesses and public venues from concert halls to aquariums also were targeted by large numbers of nuisance callers from China, who posted videos of themselves to social media making the calls. That prompted Japan’s top regional diplomat Hiroyuki Namazu to call on the Chinese Embassy to calm down supporters of the Communist Party dubbed “little pinks.”

An official from the station’s Discipline Inspection and Supervision Office told Oriental News that Xiao’s video would be deleted, and should never have been posted.

Mixed reactions

The news prompted mixed reactions on Chinese social media platforms, with some comments saying Xiao’s comments should be viewed in the context of Japanese wartime atrocities in China during the occupation.

“We need to view Japan from a historical perspective, soberly, toughly, and take a stand,” blogger Bei_Debt_Optimization commented, adding that the probe into Xiao had “softened the bones of our ancestors.”

“You can offer disaster relief to Japan, but you mustn’t stop people from commenting,” the blogger wrote. “I support Cheng Hao and all who speak out for justice.”

Blogger Mr._Yu said Japan’s discharge of wastewater had “ignored global opposition, the environment and marine life.”

“Do the oceans belong to Japan, or to all of humanity?” the blogger wrote. “They caused irreversible damage to the marine ecology out of selfishness.”

But there were signs that those closer to Beijing took a dim view of such nationalism.

Former Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said Xiao’s comment would “damage the image” of a state-run broadcaster, and said he supported the move to suspend him.

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A woman is rescued from a collapsed building by firefighters in the city of Suzu in Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture on Jan. 3, 2024, (Jiji Press/AFP)

Veteran U.S.-based political commentator Hu Ping said that while the ruling Communist Party will tolerate nationalistic comments and anti-Japanese sentiment among ordinary people online, it draws the line at making such comments official in any way.

“It’s about his identity [as a state TV anchor],” Hu said. “The Chinese Communist Party won’t do anything if it’s just ordinary people, nobodies [saying such things].”

“But others will see his statement as coming from an official perspective, because he works for the state media,” he said.

“People will wonder whether such remarks represent the official view, and they will naturally believe that they do,” Hu said. “He should have been more cautious, coming as he did from an official background.”

Independent current affairs commentator Ji Feng said nobody should gloat over natural disasters anyway.

“The Japanese invaded China, but just because they invaded us back then, we can’t be full of hatred and gloat – disasters are disasters and war is war,” he said. 

He said the disciplinary action against Xiao wasn’t an act of support for Japan.

“They are trying to suppress his ignorant and negative remarks,” Ji said. “They are sending the clear message that if the party and government tell you to shut up, then you shut up.”

He said Beijing likes to drum up populist sentiment when it suits its agenda.

“Populism can be rolled out when needed, and suppressed when it’s not,” he said. “They have no need for anti-Japanese sentiment right now, so they need to suppress it.”

Ji said the government could equally decide to allow further Japan-bashing in future, however.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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