China chimes in online on Bin Laden's death


Osama Bin Laden (Image grab from a video)

By Mary Kay Magistad

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China's foreign ministry has called the killing of Osama bin Laden a "landmark event" and a positive step for global anti-terrorism efforts. But in China's fast-growing and increasingly free-wheeling online community of more than 450 million people, opinions have been mixed, ranging from relief to mourning bin Laden's death.

In a spoof, which appeared online in China, shortly after the news broke, the narrator pays homage to the al Qaeda leader.

"Today we are here to deeply memorialize Osama bin Laden, the great soldier and founder of the International Islamic terrorist movement. He had a glorious life as a strategist, politician, financier and poet."

Other online comments seemed to genuinely mourn bin Laden's demise — comments such as, "yet another anti-American hero is lost" and "now the only terrorist left is the United States." Zhang Xin, the director of the state-run China Central Television's National Security and Military Channel, wrote "Bin Laden was the greatest national hero in Arab history. He used his own power to fight the most powerful country in the world, America."

What's all this about?

First, there's a vocal nationalistic minority online in China who like to call themselves "angry youth," and who see the United States, as the world's top power, standing in the way of what they see as China's rightful rise to the top. There's also a long-standing dislike in a larger part of the Chinese population for what's seen as American military adventurism — particularly in Iraq, though they're not wild about Libya, either.

But the prevailing view in my Beijing neighborhood seemed to be more like this one, from a middle-aged guy named Xie.
"So the guy's dead already. What impact does this have on China?" Xie said. "He didn't do any acts of terrorism in China, and there were no Chinese interests involved."

When I mentioned that some Chinese seemed to admire Bin Laden, Xie scoffed, saying, "Maybe the Uighurs" — the Turkic Muslims who live in the western region of Xinjiang — "but not Han Chinese." For himself? He said it's a non-event.

A young woman named Jin had a little more interest in the news. She said it has positive and negative sides.

"First, he's a terrorist. So as long as he's alive, people won't feel secure," Jin said.

However, she added that it would have been better to arrest and try him than to shoot him in the head. She said China, too, opposes terrorist attacks, but believes in human rights, and that even Osama Bin Laden deserved to be treated as a human being.

That level of concern hasn't been as much in evidence in China, at least in public, for the dozens of lawyers and activists who have disappeared or detained in recent weeks, in China's worst crackdown of its kind in decades. But a few sly comments, related to Bin Laden's death, have made it online. One said, "That's one of the world's top ten most evil people dead — nine more to go."

There are nine people on China's Politboro standing committee.