On Saturday afternoon, the Weibo account posted a picture of a rocket launch in China — the Tianhe module launch — alongside a photo of India’s Covid victims being cremated on funeral pyres. The caption read: “Lighting a fire in China Vs lighting a fire in India.”
Social media users soon piled in and criticised the account — later revealed to be of an official Chinese law enforcement agency, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission — for its insensitive and inappropriate content. Many shared the screenshots of the original Weibo post and admonished the account. Calling on China to show sympathy at a time when India is reeling under a devastating second Covid wave.
The original post, which was accompanied by a hashtag noting India had surpassed 400,000 Covid cases in a single day, was later deleted, but screenshots continued to be shared widely.
The Chinese foreign ministry, in a statement, said: “We hope everyone gives attention to the Chinese government and mainstream public opinion supporting India’s fight against the epidemic.”
Manya Koetse, the editor-in-chief of What’s On Weibo, a site that tracks trends on the micro-blogging site said: “I don’t think we can expect a clarification from the party account in question, but I do think there was no consensus on this post or else it would not have been removed so quickly.”
The Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, meanwhile, wrote on Weibo that official social media accounts should “hold the banner of humanitarianism at this time, show sympathy for India, and firmly place Chinese society on a moral high ground.” He also said that this was no way for official accounts to gain traction.
On Friday, Chinese president Xi Jinping had sent a message of condolence to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and offered to send help to the country amid the world’s worst Covid surge. He said: “I am very concerned about the recent situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. On behalf of the Chinese government and people, as well as in my own name, I would like to express sincere sympathies to the Indian government and people.”
On Sunday, the official number of Covid-19 deaths were recorded at 3,689 — the highest number since the pandemic began. However, there are numerous reports suggesting that the Indian government is severely under-reporting the actual number of Covid deaths.
One WeChat user said: “I apologise to Indian people on my own behalf. The post by [Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission‘s] Weibo acct doesn’t represent me. We live on the same planet... We feel your sufferings.”
Earlier a separate Weibo account belonging to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security had posted a photo comparing China’s Huoshenshan Hospital, the emergency hospital complex built within 10 days in Wuhan, to the photo of India’s mass cremations. This post was also deleted after a slew of criticism calling it “morally problematic.”
Meanwhile, Bollywood actor Sonu Sood tweeted to express his disappointment that the Chinese government was not allowing consignments of aid to India. He said: “We are trying to get hundreds of oxygen concentrators to India. It’s sad to say that China has blocked lots of our consignments and here in India we are losing lives every minute.”
The Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, soon took over and assured China’s support to India. In response to Sood’s tweet, Mr Sun replied: “Noted your twitter info Mr Sood. China will do its utmost to support India fighting Covid-19. To my knowledge, freight air routes from China to India are operating normally. The past two weeks have witnessed 61 freight flights from China to India in operation.” He also assured that he’ll make sure that there is “smooth functioning of export channel of materials to India.”