Mangoes add patriotic juice to Chinese online attack against Philippines  

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Jul 14, 2016 18:13 IST
Pro-Beijing protesters shout slogans against the United States supporting an international court ruling of the South China Sea outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong. (AP)

If Japanese cars and goods were targeted during a wave of anti-Tokyo protests four years ago, the unlikely symbol of Chinese ire against a tribunal’s ruling this week against China’s claims on the South China Sea is the highly rated Philippines mango.

Considered a delicacy and a top variety worldwide, mangoes from Philippines are popular in China, where they are imported and consumed in large quantities. The dried variety of the fruit too is widely available across China in mom-and-pop stores and 24-hour convenience shops.

Not any more, if one is a true Chinese patriot.

Online groups are urging Chinese citizens to boycott mangoes from the Philippines to protest against The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) decision that went in favour of Manila and against Beijing. On Tuesday, a tribunal set up by the PCA said China had no historic rights over islands in the South China Sea and that Beijing had violated Manila’s maritime rights.

A subsequent online “ruling” by some Chinese social media groups apparently says Filipino companies have no right to sell mangoes in China.

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The nationalistic Global Times tabloid reported online groups had urged traders on Taobao, China’s biggest online retailer, not to buy mangoes from the Philippines.

“Vendors who sell snacks, especially imported dried mango from the Philippines on Taobao...began to change their advertisements into ‘we boycott any products made in the Philippines’ and ‘the rise and fall of the nation is the concern of every Chinese and our dried mango comes from Thailand and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, not the Philippines’,” the newspaper reported.

The BBC reported slogans such as “If you want to eat mango, buy Thailand’s” and “Starve the Filipinos to death” being circulated on Weibo.

Whether the call for a boycott is successful will only be known in a few days. For the time, it doesn’t seem the demand for implementing a boycott will spiral out of control.

The calls for mango boycott, of course, are a reminder of the anti-Japan protests in China--first around 2005 and then, more recently, in 2012-13 when Sino-Japan bilateral ties were particularly sensitive. Some reports during those protests said a few Chinese citizens even scratched their own Japanese cars in somewhat unhinged acts of patriotic passion.

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The fervour this time is yet to touch that pitch but thousands and thousands of patriotic comments are circulating on China’s Twitter-like Weibo social media platforms and on WeChat, the mobile phone app.

Comments, maps of the South China Sea and cartoons were widely shared on these platforms with Chinese citizens mostly saying China would not allow even a bit of its territory to be taken away.

“The SCS belongs to China, we won’t lose a bit,” wrote one user.

“On the Paris peace conference, China had nothing to do but to wait for sanctions from western countries, but today, Chinese people sneer at this illicit arbitration result. No diplomacy in weak countries, but now China has become powerful,” was one of the “hot picks” comments on Sina Weibo that was shared numerous times.

Said another user:“China will not take a bit that does not belong to it, and will fight for all that’s bound to be its part. When faced with territorial integrity issues, we’re all serious. If there’s to be a war, we’ll definitely stick up for our nation regardless of any condition.”

Some comments called for peace and talks.

“There’s no doubt that China has to affirm its attitude on the SCS problem. Honestly I don’t know much about politics, but we should not be radical,” wrote a Chinese citizen on Weibo. “Violence cannot completely solve a problem, we have to settle the problem with long periods of negotiation and consultation, and seek a proper solution on the precondition of territorial integrity...hyping the problem does not help.”

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