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U.S. Embassy Gets Caught Up in Chinese Investors' Market Rage

The Wall Street Journal logo The Wall Street Journal 2/12/2018 James T. Areddy

SHANGHAI—Frustrated investors in China are howling about recent stock market losses on the social-media accounts of foreign embassies, in one case turning a greeting by U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad for the coming Year of the Dog into a platform to protest.

Messages posted by the U.S. Embassy to its official account on the Chinese social-media service Weibo have attracted thousands of stock-related comments in recent days. Posts included items about the Winter Olympics and a video Lunar New Year greeting from Mr. Branstad and his wife, in which he speaks Chinese and pets a basset hound.

The embassy said in a statement Monday that it registered more than 10,000 comments about stocks pinned to its messages on Weibo, none of which had to do with the market. It said it deleted some of the nastiest ones, which violated the embassy’s terms of use.

Tough talk about stocks has also flooded onto the Weibo accounts of the U.K. Embassy and the United Nations, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Terry Branstad wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Wall Street Journal.

The comments largely took aim at Chinese authorities following last week’s nearly 10% drop in the Shanghai Composite Index, and they continued Monday despite the market’s rebound of about 0.8%. Many bitingly used phrases out of government propaganda, including President Xi Jinping’s declaration of a “new era,” and suggested censorship elsewhere made them turn to foreigners.

“Is it what you call socialism in the new era? Now investors don’t have anywhere to go to complain and have to resort to the U.S. Embassy’s Weibo,” said one message that received hundreds of likes on the U.S. Embassy account. “So pathetic!”

Weibo appeared to disable the comment function on some of the posts published on the foreign-run feeds, including the U.S. Embassy’s, which has over 1.2 million followers. Weibo Corp. didn’t respond to a request for comment.

China’s investors have protested about stock declines repeatedly since trading began nearly three decades ago. Many believe that the government ultimately controls the markets, a sentiment reinforced after a group of state-backed investors and funds stepped in to stabilize trading after a meltdown in mid-2015.

“Seeking foreign ambassadors to intervene in China’s stock market is kind of ridiculous and immature behavior,” said Shen Meng, who runs Beijing-based investment bank Chanson & Co. “Many Chinese investors have been spoiled by the false belief that the state will step in to prevent big losses in the market.”

Last week’s declines in the U.S., where the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its two worst days ever in point terms, appeared to spark China’s selloff, and some of the posted commentary took aim at the U.S.

Most of the social-media ire was directed at the Chinese government, including the China Securities Regulatory Commission and its chairman, Liu Shiyu. He sometimes was identified by the number 641, which in Chinese is a homonym for his name. A typical comment: “Liu Shiyu manipulated the stock market. Has anyone seen U.S. investors calling the names of the U.S. securities regulator?”

In his brief video posted to Weibo, Mr. Branstad used a phrase in Chinese along with a translation—”chun jie kuai-le, best wishes for a happy new year”—as he petted a saggy-eared hound named Tequila that is owned by an Embassy employee.

“Please, Mr. Ambassador, while walking the dog, pay attention to the Chinese stock market,” ran one comment. “Please, Mr. Ambassador, have a chat with 641,” the reference to the securities chief Mr. Liu.

Write to James T. Areddy at james.areddy@wsj.com

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