Webinar on “How the Covid-19 Pandemic Triggers Nationalist Online Expressions in China and Vietnam”

In this webinar, Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong and Assoc. Prof. Jennifer Pan discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the online expression of nationalist sentiments in Vietnam and China respectively.


Wednesday, 29 September 2021 — The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar moderated by Ms Lee Sue-Ann (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) titled “How the Covid-19 Pandemic Triggers Nationalist Online Expressions in China and Vietnam.” The webinar featured the findings of Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong’s and Assoc. Prof Jennifer Pan’s research on the effect of Covid-19 on nationalist sentiments in Vietnam and China respectively.

Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong and Assoc. Prof. Jennifer Pan
Moderator Ms Lee Sue-Ann and speakers Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong and Assoc. Prof. Jennifer Pan interact during the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Dien started the webinar with a presentation on the driving factors behind the increased expression of nationalist sentiments in online spaces in Vietnam. He began by providing a historical context, illustrating how new triggers behind the expression of nationalist sentiments differ from the common triggers of the past. In doing so, he highlighted that the new trigger for the rise in nationalist sentiments is foreign scepticism and criticism of Vietnam’s management of the pandemic.

In exploring how the Vietnamese people actively push back against criticisms directed towards their country, Mr Dien made several observations. Among these observations included the fact that the mainstream media in Vietnam was highly supportive of netizens in pushing back against the criticisms. He also observed that while there have been foreign criticisms levelled against the government in the past, it is arguably because of the pandemic that the Vietnamese people were so much more vocal.

The presentation then continued with a discussion of the Vietnamese government’s initial success and subsequent failure to hold on to public support in the face of the management of the pandemic, and Mr Dien illustrated that the government has failed to achieve its desired result. This is largely attributed to the fact that the government’s key weapon in managing the pandemic — the military —failed to restore public support.

A slide from Mr Dien’s presentation, questioning the significance of online patriots to the Vietnamese government. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Assoc. Prof. Pan then moved on to her presentation, primarily looking at how information flowed into and out of China in the early days of the pandemic. She focused on both Twitter and Weibo, examining the key questions of how often viral Twitter content appeared on Weibo, whether a message first appeared on Twitter or on Weibo, what type of content was more likely to appear on either platform, and what type of accounts were sharing the content appearing on these platforms.

In presenting her findings, Assoc. Prof. Pan highlighted that overall, more information flowed out of China than into China. She classified this information into four categories: criticisms of the Chinese regime and/or Chinese people; calls to stop anti-Asian and anti-Chinese racism; descriptions of the situation on the ground as the virus; and other miscellaneous forms of content.

Upon presenting these findings, Assoc. Prof. Pan discussed the significance of this information, demonstrating that the first category of information was especially important as it confirmed peoples’ nationalistic views. In other words, their encounter with content that criticised the government, or which was racist against Chinese people, served to increase support for the political status quo in China. This observation was especially stark among individuals who are least nationalistic, who exhibited a boost in their support for the regime.

A slide from Assoc. Prof. Pan’s presentation illustrating the correlation between individual levels of nationalism and support for the Chinese regime. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Finally, the webinar concluded with a Question-and-Answer segment, during which questions were raised about the longevity of nationalist sentiments beyond the pandemic, the role of cyber-troopers in contributing to online expressions of nationalist sentiments, as well as deliberations about whether or not nationalist sentiments could get out of hand.