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Why the Ukraine-Russia war is dividing Australia’s Chinese community

After a recent discussion about the war between Ukraine and Russia became heated and even “abusive” in her WhatsApp group for church members, Susie Su was forced to ban the topic.

The 69-year-old Taiwanese Australian, who helps run the social media group comprising around 50 Chinese Christians in New South Wales, said she wanted to keep the peace after realizing the debate was dividing her community.

Susie Su says China should support Ukraine without directly intervening in the war.(Provided)

With members hailing from mainland China, Malaysia and Hong Kong, the community has always had solid conversations, but this was the first time they had to chime in since the group was founded two years ago.

Ms Su said last month that a church minister had been accused of advocating pro-Russian views after saying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should visit Russia to protect civilians in the war-torn country. war.

Many Ukrainian supporters in the chat room claimed that Russia’s invasion had caused the deaths of these civilians.

“I believe that as Christians we should be against invasion and seek democracy and freedom.”

But when the church minister was verbally abused by another member, Ms Su cut the discussion short.

Ms Su said she found that many people who expressed pro-Russian views had been influenced by Chinese social media posts, and some echoed Beijing.

China tried to portray itself as a neutral party and refused to condemn Russia’s action or call it an invasion.

Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blamed NATO for pushing Russian-Ukrainian tensions to “breaking point“, while Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said the root cause of the crisis lay in the cold war mentality of the West.

Ms. Su said she had a lot of sympathy for Ukrainians and believed China should support Ukraine as much as possible without directly intervening in the war.

As the Russian invasion continues, the ABC has witnessed heated discussions on several Chinese social media platforms popular among Chinese-speaking communities in Australia.

Several Chinese Australians have told the ABC they feel frustrated to see friends, colleagues and even family members arguing about the war on social media.

Exposing Chinese Propaganda

Yang Han, a Sydney-based Chinese former diplomat and political commentator, was shocked when he saw the pro-Russian comments piling up in a WeChat group where hundreds of Chinese Australians shared information about the pandemic.

Since the war broke out in February, the chat room has instead been dominated by Chinese news articles and discussions about the war.

A photo of a man with glasses with bookcases in the background.
Mr. Yang translates pro-Russian articles from Chinese media into English and posts them on Twitter. (Provided)

He said he decided to translate some of the pro-Russian comments and articles shared in the WeChat group into English and post them on his Twitter account to highlight how some of Beijing’s propaganda was influencing Australian Chinese migrants.

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After a member of the WeChat room discovered the translations, he was removed from the group and then singled out by Chinese state media.

The Chinese nationalist tabloid world times accused Mr. Yang of being a paid agent of anti-China organizations with the aim of fomenting a “color revolution”.

Mr Yang rejected that claim and said he feared Chinese censorship could influence the Australian community.

“The band members are Australians,” he said, adding that their views could affect politics in Australia.

Mr. Yang said Chinese state media reports fuel frustration during discussions among family and friends.

Some Chinese Australians told the ABC that polarized views on the war have often led to nasty conversations between husbands and wives, parents and children and work colleagues.

A phone screenshot with the wechat app.
Many Chinese migrants join WeChat groups to discuss the war in Ukraine.(ABC News: Bang Xiao)

Mr Yang said his relatives in China avoided discussing the war in Ukraine with him on WeChat because it was a sensitive topic that could damage their relationship.

Chinese Australians have diverse opinions

A man and a woman in winter coats kiss.  He hugs her and kisses her on the cheek while she cries, she pulls him closer
Vitalyi Chernyshov hugs his wife Lyudmila before she and their children board a bus out of Ukraine and into Poland.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

David Goodman, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, said Chinese-speaking communities have different values ​​and backgrounds.

He said supporting Russia was “a logical nationalist stance in China”, given that Beijing said in February that its partnership with Moscow had “no limits” and that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend. “.

Feng Chongyi, an associate professor of Chinese studies at the University of Technology Sydney and a democracy campaigner, said opinions among Chinese-speaking communities in Australia were very diverse because people held different ideologies.

He said some Chinese Australians with pro-Russian views could also be influenced by anti-US propaganda and censorship of anti-Russian content on popular social media platforms.

Earlier this year, Jin Xing, China’s first openly transgender dancer who has more than 13 million fans on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, called Russia’s president “crazy”. Shortly after, his post was deleted and his account was suspended.

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Zelenskyy calls for Russia to be investigated for war crimes in Ukraine