On China's tightly controlled internet, Russia's attack stokes debate

A computer network cable is seen above a Chinese flag in this July 12, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

SHANGHAI, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been greeted with a mix of support and criticism on Chinese social media, with some users framing it as a battle with the West that foreshadows what could happen if China seized Taiwan, and others calling for peace.

The war is one of the top trending items on Chinese social media, drawing hundreds of millions of views and generating intense discussion in a country that has tense relations with the United States and its Western allies.

While Beijing and its state media have refrained from criticising Russia, instead blaming NATO expansion for the crisis and urging talks to resolve the situation, social media users have been more expressive, keeping censors busy on China's closely monitored internet.

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On social media platform Weibo, many users repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that he wanted to "denazify Ukraine". Some asked how they could donate to the Russian effort.

Others criticised Russia for bullying Ukraine, saying they stood in solidarity with the invaded country, although some of those posts were later taken down without explanation.

"Support Russia, kill the chicken to scare the monkey," said Weibo user gushuqiuyu, using a Chinese idiom that means making an example out of someone to warn others.

The comment received over 4,000 likes, though some urged the writer to "comment rationally".

Other users said Beijing should watch closely how the West responds to Russia's attack for clues on the possible Western reaction should China make a move on Taiwan, a self-ruled island its claims as its own, and prepare accordingly.

"Everything targeting Russia today is a rehearsal for us," said one popular comment on news that global banks had opted to remove certain Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system.

China has refused to condemn the attack by Russia, a partner with which it has grown increasingly close in opposition to the West, though it has repeatedly called for the conflict to be resolved by dialogue.

Beijing says it respects countries' sovereignty, including Ukraine's, but that Russia's concerns about NATO's eastward expansion should be properly addressed.

Alongside the many comments supportive of Russia, many others called for peace.

A 41-second clip of a lone man in the city of Hangzhou holding a sign saying "stop war" that was posted on NetEase's video sharing platform was widely shared online on Sunday before being deleted without explanation.

Another prominent post on messaging app WeChat that was later scrubbed was a joint statement signed by five professors from top institutions including Nanjing University and Tsinghua University saying they opposed Russia's move against Ukraine.

"In the midst of all the noise, we felt the need to make our voices heard," said the article. "Peace is what human hearts yearn for. We are against unjust wars."

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Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Muyu Xu and Shanghai Newsroom Editing by Tony Munroe and Pravin Char

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