A group of artists apparently from China whitewashed a wall long decorated by artists in London and then spray painted characters listing the Communist Party’s 12 “core socialist values,” setting off a graffiti battle over the Asian nation’s politics.
(Bloomberg) — A group of artists apparently from China whitewashed a wall long decorated by artists in London and then spray painted characters listing the Communist Party’s 12 “core socialist values,” setting off a graffiti battle over the Asian nation’s politics.
The bright red words such as “freedom,” “equality” and “democracy” lasted just a few hours over the weekend before expressions of discontent with Beijing’s policies and President Xi Jinping appeared. Calls for “Solidarity with Hong Kong” and references to Xinjiang, where China is accused of human rights violations against minority groups, were plastered over and around the red characters.
The wall has now become the focal point for criticism of China and inflamed divisions online too. The episode comes as governments in Europe are redefining their relationship with Beijing, which the US increasingly sees as a threat to its national security.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has sought to reset ties with China without angering hawks in his own party. He’s seeking to repair a relationship strained over everything from China’s tightening political grip on Hong Kong to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There’s signs that perceptions of China are souring in nations around the world, largely over Xi’s policies. A recent poll by Pew Research Center recorded negative views reaching record highs in 10 of the 24 nations where it conducted its survey.
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One of the artists claiming to be responsible for the original 12-word graffiti said the work was intended to be neutral, and the person holds no political stance, according to a post on Instagram. Yique, the name the artist uses, said they’ve received death threats and other attacks, including the release of their parents’ personal details online.
The post couldn’t immediately be verified and the person didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A hashtag about the graffiti has attracted more than 23 million views since Sunday on the Weibo social media platform. The former editor-in-chief of the party-backed Global Times, Hu Xijin, wrote in a post that the episode showed some people outside China hold “special prejudices.”
“The environment in the West cannot tolerate the display of China’s socialist core values,” Hu wrote. “We should not be discouraged. We should continue to be confident in our socialist core values.”
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The wall has since been whitewashed again, and artwork critical of China and referencing sweeping protests in the country in November against harsh Covid policies has since reappeared.
The local council of Tower Hamlets, where the wall is located, did not respond to requests for comment outside business hours.
Tower Hamlets is also home to the site Beijing had hoped to build a new embassy, which would have been its largest in Europe. That plan was scuppered by the council in late 2022.
Residents had raised worries that the area would become a target for terrorists and a surveillance camera hotspot.
Also late last year, China removed consular officials from the UK following a diplomatic spat over an attack on a Hong Kong man staging a peaceful protest outside the consulate in Manchester.
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