As the Suez boat was stuck, the Chinese internet jeered

Society & Culture

China’s historical grudges return, with nautical flair: How Chinese internet commenters reacted upon discovering the stuck Suez boat is Japanese-owned and Taiwanese-operated.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

The Ever Given, the massive container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most critical shipping lanes, held up $10 billion of trade a day, according to experts.

The boat had clogged up canal traffic for almost a week before being recently freed.

According to a statement by the Taiwan Ministry of Transportation, the ship was said to have been knocked off course by powerful winds. The Ever Given is owned by Shoei Kisen, a Japanese company, but operated by Evergreen Marine Corporation (LSE:EGMD TWSE:2603), a Taiwanese shipping company.

The ship’s misfortunes became an international sensation over the weekend. It was covered by all major news organizations, also making a splash on social media. “The stuck boat is all of us” wrote a U.S. journalist on Twitter, as memes about the ship proliferated.

In China, reactions were no less raucous. The hashtag “Aftermath of boat in Suez Canal” (苏伊士运河大塞船后果) went viral on Weibo over the weekend, gathering 190 million views. But empathy was less forthcoming. Netizens were quick to pick up on the nationalities involved in the logjam. “Are the Taiwanese only good at getting in the way?” quipped one user (in Chinese) on Weibo.

The top comment brought the connection full circle by making a pun on the familiar phrase “Taiwan independence is a dead-end” (台独死路一条 táidú sǐlù yītiáo). Changing one character without affecting the pronunciation, the post read “Taiwan blockage causes a dead-end” (台堵死路一条 táidú sǐlù yītiáo).

The oceanic mishap included another prickly detail. On Thursday, Shoei Kisen, the Japanese ship proprietor, apologized for the incident, adding that it was working towards a resolution with local authorities. But that did not stop online furor against Japan, another country with which China has had long historical feuds.

“Little Japan, only good at bowing, apologizing, and wiping people’s asses,” remarked one user. The hashtag “Japanese shipowner apologize for blocking the Suez Canal” (日本船东为阻塞苏伊士运河道歉) gathered 60 million views over the weekend.

Over the past year, China and Taiwan’s relationship has been strained over everything from semiconductors to pineapples. The boat incident has given Chinese internet users another stick to poke fun at their neighbor.

Taiwanese have so far taken the unflattering attention in stride. This week, on the Facebook page “Taiwan meme (台灣迷因)”, a picture of a muscular shiba dog went viral under the title “About the country Taiwan.” The buff shiba, representing Taiwan as an underdog that punches above its weight, sported a pineapple on its head, a logo of Taiwan chip giant TSMC — the “most important company in the world” — tattooed on its bicep, the stuck boat lodged under its right arm, and a salmon under its left.

“Woo woo woo, after quitting the United Nations, how do we impact the world?” the meme reads.