Weibo reacts to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit: ‘No quarantine for the old witch?’

Foreign Affairs

Patriotic messages spread like wildfire on Chinese social media yesterday amid Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. “All wars cost heaps of money and many lives. But at the same time, it’s so humiliating to let the U.S. keep testing our red lines. What a dilemma!”

From the Weibo account of the People’s Daily, with words that read, “Those who play with fire will burn themselves in the end.”

As U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday evening local time, brushing aside stark, repeated warnings from China that her high-profile diplomatic visit could compel Beijing to take targeted military actions, strong reactions erupted on the Chinese social media site Weibo, where shock, rage, and calls for countermeasures echoed.

Pelosi’s arrival is significant as she’s the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years. Beijing sees the self-governed island as part of its territory and announced live fire military exercises encircling the island just minutes after Pelosi’s plane touched down in Taipei.

As the visit unfolded, issues surrounding the situation — specifically what it might mean for the future of Taiwan and U.S.-China relations — were hotly debated on Weibo. (The platform, which is owned by Sina, announced on Monday that it will suspend operations in Taiwan.) Over the course of Tuesday evening, a flurry of hashtags prompted by the news went viral on the site, with popular ones racking up millions of views:

  • “The U.S and Taiwan are playing with fire by forming a partnership and acting provocatively. They will burn themselves eventually” (#美台勾连挑衅玩火必自焚#)
  • “1.4 billion people do not agree with any interference in China’s sovereignty issues” (​​#干涉中国主权问题14亿人不答应#)

Many of these were propagated by official accounts of state media outlets and government-affiliated organizations such as the Communist Youth League of China.

Meanwhile, millions of Chinese internet users tuned in to livestreams of Pelosi’s flight, with one broadcast hosted by China.org reaching a peak of 70 million viewers. Weibo users reported outages and intermittent connectivity at various points throughout the evening, possibly a result of server crashes due to an overwhelming amount of traffic on the platform.

Journalists and state media outlets were among the first to share posts analyzing the significance of Pelosi’s visit and sounding the alarm of a looming, high-stakes standoff between the U.S. and China. Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, former editor-in-chief of the nationalist newspaper Global Times, commented that although Pelosi’s trip marked the beginning of a “high-intensity competition between China and the U.S. in regards to the Taiwan strait,” China would respond properly and prevail in the end with “strength and confidence.”

“Taiwan is right next to us and we have plenty of cards stacked in our favor,” Hu wrote in a Weibo post. “I want to ask everyone to have more confidence in our Party, our government, and our military. Pelosi won’t be able to damage China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Taiwanese officials who allowed her visit will pay a grave price for it.”

The Weibo account of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, shared an illustration of Pelosi donning in a Statue of Liberty costume, holding a torch, carrying a suitcase on fire with a label reading “scheme” (阴谋 yīnmóu). The caption says, “Those who play with fire will burn themselves in the end.”

Patriotic messages were prevalent on the site, with many echoing the Chinese government’s official stance that Taiwan is a part of the country. “There’s only one China,” one person wrote, while another declared, “Whatever decision our leaders make toward Taiwan, I support it unconditionally.”

When it comes to the question of whether China should invade Taiwan to enforce its “One China policy,” opinions were divided. Some Weibo users thought it would be in China’s best interest to play the long game and take control of Taiwan through peaceful methods rather than military means, while others said they were dissatisfied with the lack of substantial measures on China’s part in stopping Pelosi from visiting Taiwan. “All wars cost heaps of money and many lives. But at the same time, it’s so humiliating to let the U.S. keep testing our red lines. What a dilemma!” a Weibo user commented.

“Old witch” (老巫婆 lǎowūpó) and “unhinged hag” (神经病老太婆 shénjīngbìng lǎotàipó) were epithets hurled at Pelosi. “How did this old witch land in Taiwan safely? Weren’t we planning to shoot down her plane?” one person asked. Some pointed out that there seemed to be no quarantine requirement for Pelosi, which stood in stark contrast to the tight restrictions on international travel under the mainland’s zero-COVID strategy. “No quarantine for the old witch? Is Taiwan giving special treatment to its new best friend?” a person joked. (International travelers to Taiwan are currently required to undergo at least a three-day quarantine.)

Many griped about staying up late to witness the historical moment, saying that the government should make the next few days national holidays, as they won’t be able to focus on work. “We are literally on the verge of a war and I can’t believe I still have to go to work tomorrow,” a Weibo user wrote.