Tone of embassy tweets about journalist ‘aimed’ at Beijing

Chinese reaction to Yvonne Murray departure designed for officials, academic says

Combative tweets from the Chinese embassy in Dublin about the departure of Irish journalist Yvonne Murray from China were probably written to impress superiors in the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing, according to academics.

"It's clearly aimed at Beijing. It's aimed at their own senior management," said Isabella Jackson, assistant professor in Chinese history at Trinity College Dublin. "They want to be seen to be tough."

On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Dublin responded on its Twitter account to reports in the Irish and international media that Murray was forced to leave China.

Murray, who had been reporting for RTÉ from Beijing, is married to BBC China correspondent John Sudworth, and they have both covered, among other matters, the Chinese government's campaign against the Uighur and other Turkish peoples in Xinjiang.


The couple took the decision to leave China with their three children because of increasing intimidation from the authorities, Murray said. They have moved to Taiwan.

In a response on its Twitter account, the Dublin embassy said Murray had chosen to leave China.

“Nobody has forced or will force her. Sensationalist presentation sells paper but won’t for too long.”

‘Wolf diplomacy’

It said Sudworth had produced “unfair, unobjective and biased reporting on China “and that some people in Xinjiang were considering suing him for the “serious harm” his reporting has caused.

As well as tweeting a link to an Irish law firm’s blog on defamation, the embassy posted a tweet that referred to Aesop’s fable about a wolf and its desire to eat a lamb.

The tweet was widely seen as a reference to the more aggressive “wolf diplomacy” being pursued by China under President Xi Jinping, but attracted international comment because it was unclear what the point was that the tweet was trying to make.

The Irish Times asked the embassy who exactly had posted the tweets, and if it wished to comment, but received no response. The tweet referring to the fable has since been deleted.

French China expert Antoine Bondaz told The Irish Times there was a "huge diversity" in the attitude being adopted by Chinese embassies across Europe, with the one in France being "especially offensive".

He said the range of attitudes being adopted was probably driven by the personalities in the embassies, and was not being centrally directed from Beijing.

In a recent tweet by the Chinese embassy in Paris, Mr Bondaz was described as an “ideological troll,” a “crazy hyena” and a “little hoodlum”.

Impressing party leaders

When the French authorities criticised the embassy, it issued a statement saying some people “want China’s diplomacy to be ‘lamb diplomacy’, which is more tolerant and calm towards external attacks . . . This era has gone forever.”

Mr Bondaz, a research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said the aggressive commentary from Chinese diplomats was aimed at impressing party bosses and senior ministry officials in Beijing.

“The objective is to be seen, from Beijing, as very assertive and earn some points, for their own career.”

The huge diversity between the Chinese embassies in Belgium and Italy, for example, and the ones in France and Ireland, shows that personal factors are very important, he said. “It doesn’t make any sense otherwise.”

David O’Brien, an Irish China expert based in Germany, said the Chinese Communist Party has become an “echo chamber”.

“I think there is also a real failure within the Chinese government to appreciate just how much damage has been done to its international reputation and image recently, and how these kinds of postings only add to the damage,” he said.

Twitter locked the account of the Chinese embassy in Washington DC in January, after the embassy posted a comment that Uighur women had been emancipated from being “baby-making machines” by Chinese government policy in Xinjiang.

Twitter said the tweet was contrary to its policy against “dehumanisation” based on religion.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent