BEIJING: China’s most famous sabre-rattling general has turned uncharacteristically silent after a bruising first foray on the ‘‘battleground’’ of online public opinion.
Major-General Luo Yuan has attracted more than 237,000 followers since opening a microblog account with Sina Weibo, a hugely popular Twitter-like service, only days ago.
‘‘Weibo is a very important public opinion battleground,’’ wrote General Luo, warming up to his typically spirited opening salvo on Thursday.
But efforts by propaganda authorities to delete negative comments have not disguised that the ‘‘beloved people’’ have not been entirely won over to his cause.
‘‘I don’t want to talk about it,’’ General Luo told Fairfax Media on Monday. ‘‘I haven’t got anything more to say about public opinion.’’
General Luo, the princeling son of a former national intelligence chief, has recently suggested turning the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China) into a Chinese target range.
He denied he had called for Tokyo to be bombed, but his entry onto the microblogging battlefield has been explosive nonetheless.
‘‘We can no longer be silent, for you either explode in silence, or die in it,’’ wrote General Luo, who is deputy secretary-general of the China Society of Military Science. ‘‘For our beloved country, beloved party, beloved army, beloved people, we should fight!’’
That first Weibo post alone had attracted more than 33,700 comments and had been forwarded 37,800 times by 2pm Monday AEDT.
General Luo is a star among conservative sections of his own red aristocracy and among viewers of China Central Television’s military channel, where he is a regular guest.
But the less forgiving audiences on Weibo wondered why General Luo purported to fight for the ‘‘beloved Communist Party’’ before ‘‘the people’’ and whether generals should be so active in politics. And when General Luo sounded the bugle to fight ‘‘traitors’’ and ‘‘corrupt’’ officials they suggested he begin his mission at home, noting his siblings are extensively involved in business.
But the public relations war really backfired when he appeared to be caught trying to even up the public opinion scorecard by writing laudatory comments about himself. He claimed his password had been hacked, prompting netizens to ask whether the PLA could be expected to defend China’s territorial integrity if its generals had such difficulty protecting their Weibo passwords.
He’s encountered another type of angry public opinion, one that is more inclined to blame China for the world’s problems than the reverse.Andrew Chubb, researcher
‘‘If the national security professional can’t even change his password then the people really should be worried,’’ said Kaifu Lee, an IT entrepreneur who was the founding president of Google China, writing on his own Weibo account.
Andrew Chubb, who is researching links between Chinese public opinion and government policy on territorial disputes, said General Luo had been ‘‘itching’’ to enter the Weibo fray in the two years since the PLA ordered him to shut his long-form blogs.
The blogs were ‘‘popular with angry military enthusiasts’’ and he had grown accustomed to soft interviews, said Mr Chubb, who has written about General Luo on his blog.
‘‘But on the Weibo ‘front’ he’s encountered another type of angry public opinion, one that is more inclined to blame China for the world’s problems than the reverse,’’ Mr Chubb said.
The founder and chief editor of China Digital Times, Xiao Qiang, said General Luo’s state-driven nationalism has collided with the relatively open Weibo debating environment.
‘‘If Weibo is the battlefield between pro-state voices and civil society, then it looks like General Luo has hopelessly lost his first encounter,’’ said Professor Xiao, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley.