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Taiwan Earthquake Prompts Well-Wishes From China — and PLA References

  • The 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan sparked seemingly friendly messages on Chinese social media.
  • These wishes for success are a striking departure from the usual hostile rhetoric towards Taiwan.
  • But they also testify to China’s ambitions towards Taiwan and what the Chinese think of the island.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Taiwan on Wednesday morning sparked a wave of messages of concern on social media from mainland China, diverting the usual hostile rhetoric towards the self-governing island.

Images posted online from Hualien County in eastern Taiwan, the epicenter of the quake, show collapsed buildings and a tilted multi-story building at an angle of almost 45 degrees.

The earthquake killed four people and injured around 50 as of midday Wednesday local time, with around 20 others still trapped and in need of rescue, Reuters reported.


View of a damaged apartment following an offshore earthquake in New Taipei City, Taiwan, April 3, 2024.

View of a damaged apartment following an offshore earthquake in New Taipei City, Taiwan, April 3, 2024.

Fabien Hamacher/Reuters



On Weibo, China’s version of X, the typical talk about war with Taiwan, gave way to thousands of comments wishing for the safety of those caught in the tremors. Like many Chinese social media platforms, Weibo is heavily censored and moderated.

“This time it feels like the earthquake was very strong in many places. We want safety,” said one of the top comments.

Discussions about the earthquake rose to the top of Weibo’s trending topics, reaching 520 million views in an hour, according to data seen by Business Insider.

This response is indicative of netizens’ attitudes towards Taiwan, with Beijing long arguing that the island should come under mainland rule and that its residents belong to China as “one family”.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has taken an aggressive stance on potential war issues to achieve this goal, paving the way for a rise in hostile rhetoric online against Taiwan. However, kinetic conflict is still widely considered on social media as one option among others for unification.

Polls show that Taiwan’s residents are increasingly balking at the idea of ​​being part of mainland China, and Chinese disdain for that opposition was on full display, even amid Wednesday’s welcome greetings.

“I hope everyone is safe (except the Taiwanese pro-independence separatist forces),” one person wrote in a popular comment for a state media report on the earthquake.

“May patriotic Chinese be safe,” was a phrase frequently posted Wednesday.

Some have suggested that the People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces, should intervene.

“In an earthquake of this magnitude, I personally think it is necessary for the People’s Liberation Army to provide support,” one person wrote.

It is an attack on Taiwan’s autonomy which technically does not threaten invasion. In China, the PLA is usually mobilized to provide massive manpower for relief and rescue after major disasters.


Soldiers carry relief materials for residents affected by the earthquake in Shiyuan Township of Jishishan County, northwest China's Gansu Province, 22 December 2023.

Soldiers carry relief materials for residents affected by the earthquake in Shiyuan Township of Jishishan County, northwest China’s Gansu Province, 22 December 2023.

Zhang Yongjin/Xinhua via Getty Images



In 2008, for example, the PLA deployed some 130,000 troops in response to a magnitude 8.0 earthquake that devastated Sichuan province, even though some troops were apparently unprepared for relief work.

Fears of war between Beijing and Taipei have flared in recent years as Xi continues to intensify talks on military preparedness and Taiwan’s ruling party strengthens its support for resisting the mainland.

Observers warn that the war risks drawing the United States into conflict with China, with disastrous consequences for the global economy. An expert previously told BI that the effects could be worse for the world than the 1929 stock market crash.

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