China Mocks ‘Puppet’ Greta Thunberg for ‘Skipping School’

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg looks on as she takes part in a "Youth Strike 4 Climate" protest march on March 6, 2020 in Brussels. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP) (Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)
JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

China’s Global Times state propaganda outlet attacked teen environmental celebrity Greta Thunberg on Sunday, dismissing her as “short of sufficient academic knowledge” and mocking her for “skipping school” after she condemned China’s outsized contributions to world pollution.

Thunberg became famous for leading a campaign called “Fridays for Future,” in which she encouraged students to not go to school on Fridays as a “strike” protest urging the governments of the world to act against climate change. She has since risen through international prominence and speaks regularly at global events hosted by groups such as the United Nations, often shaming politicians for their allegedly lax attitudes towards environmental issues.

Thunberg typically saves her most visceral criticism for Western nations and has often remained silent in the face of China’s mounting environmental crimes, including the destruction of South China Sea coral ecosystems, the devastating effects of rare earth mineral mining, and China’s growing dependence on fossil fuels. In 2021, China built up three times more coal power capacity than every other nation in the world combined.

Despite Thunberg’s typical emphasis on condemning Western countries, she has angered the Chinese Communist Party in the past, particularly by supporting the anti-communist Hong Kong protest movement and imprisoned youth protest leader Joshua Wong.

Thunberg directly challenged a prominent Communist Party talking point about China’s emissions – that China, despite being the world’s second-largest economy, is somehow still a “developing” country and thus should not be held to the same environmental standards as the West – saying it has “no excuse” for its destruction of the planet.

“Yes, China is still categorized as a developing nation … But that’s of course no excuse for ruining future and present living conditions,” Thunberg wrote on her Twitter account.

Thunberg’s comment was a response to the publication of a study by climate research organization the Rhodium Group last week that found that, when taking into consideration all “greenhouse gases” as defined in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and not just carbon dioxide, China is responsible for more pollution than every other developed country on the planet combined.

“China alone contributed over 27% of total global emissions, far exceeding the U.S. – the second-highest emitter – which contributed 11% of the global total. For the first time, India edged out the EU-27 for third place, coming in at 6.6% of global emissions,” the report read in part.

Outraged commentators and “netizens” – social media users who echo the Chinese government’s opinion online – featured prominently on the front page of the Global Times on Monday, disparaging Thunberg as uneducated and allegedly easily manipulated by the West.

“Thunberg, who at age 15 started skipping school on Fridays for her climate protests, is merely 18 years old this year,” the Global Times said. “She is short of sufficient academic knowledge study, and lack of sound self-judgment capability. Girl like her [sic] is prone to be affected or even manipulated by some political forces.”

The emphasis on Thunberg’s gender appears to be an attempt to further dismiss her. Communist China has fostered a notoriously deadly misogynistic culture, leading to decades of killings of baby girls that have now resulted in an alarming shortage of women of child-bearing age that has collapsed the nation’s birth rate.

The Global Times also dismissed Thunberg as “a political puppet,” calling her unnamed masters “unethical and despicable,” citing a Chinese government-approved “expert.”

In another article, the Global Times cited unnamed “netizens” to condemn Thunberg for being a lazy student, reinterpreting her “Fridays for Future” campaign as a convenient excuse to skip school.

“The teenager does not study hard to improve her cognitive level and personal quality but engages in meaningless political activities. She is completely ruined,” an unnamed “netizen” reportedly wrote on Chinese government-controlled social media.

Other netizens allegedly repeated the words of a Chinese Communist Party member who defined the “right” to pollute the earth as a “basic human right.”

The state newspaper also attacked the Rhodium Group in passing for inspiring Thunberg’s comments, claiming that

“The report by the Rhodium Group, which emphasizes that China’s annual emissions exceeded those of all developed countries combined, is prejudiced,” the Chinese government mouthpiece concluded. “Its aim is to impose more responsibility on China.”

Thunberg’s remarks this weekend were the clearest statements she has made yet regarding China’s destruction of the environment. She has taken a much more strident stand on Chinese political issues, particularly the violent repression by Hong Kong police against anti-communist dissidents. In late 2020, Thunberg posted an image with herself in solidarity with a campaign led by activist Joshua Wong urging the release of 12 Hong Kong residents who fled the city towards Taiwan in the aftermath of China’s illegitimate takeover of the formerly autonomous city last year. Chinese authorities apprehended them at sea and detained them for violating immigration laws. At the time, the Global Times claimed that “netizens” called her a “clown” for showing interest in human rights.

Prior to that display, Thunberg had made her friendship with Wong – who began protesting against Chinese communism at age 14 – public and wrote a supportive blurb on the back of his book, Unfree Speech.

The Chinese-controlled Hong Kong legal system has convicted Wong of multiple “crimes” in the past year, most prominently the “crime” of attending a vigil to honor those the Communist Party killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” campaign has inspired Chinese teens to also go on strike against their government. Thunberg spoke out last year against the arrest of teen activist Ou Hongyi, who attempted to found a Thunberg-inspired Fridays for Future chapter in China. As a condition of her release, Beijing authorities forced her to write a “self-criticism letter” apologizing for her advocacy.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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