Amid China’s Henan bank crisis, a video of military tanks lining up on the street circulated on the internet this week, and people went bonkers.
The clip was first uploaded on July 18 via Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that the Chinese government sent these tanks to control an ongoing protest in Henan province. However, it also gained traction from other social media sites and enraged netizens from far and wide.
Tanks are being put on the streets in China to protect the banks.
This is because the Henan branch of the Bank of China declaring that people's savings in their branch are now 'investment products' and can't be withdrawn.
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) July 20, 2022
Many had even compared the incident to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when the Chinese government deployed tanks and other fatal munitions to crush pro-democracy protests.
However, according to a fact-checking team, the video was “actually filmed in the city of Rizhao in Shandong province,” not in Henan. Upon further investigation, they also found that it was a military drill. Not to mention that a nearby naval base sits close to the city.
“Furthermore, the China Maritime Safety Administration published a press release informing citizens military exercises would take place from July 14 to 16,” the France 24 Observers team reported.
They also spoke with staff at Jinjian Inn, a hotel on the same road as the video, who confirmed the presence of the tanks on July 17. So, the tanks in the video were unrelated to the banking scandal.
What actually happened in Henan?
While tanks weren’t present in the current Henan bank crisis, the leaders of China’s party-state system did retaliate against protesters to maintain social “stability” and control the situation from further escalation.
Hundreds of jilted depositors from at least four rural banks in the central province of Henan and one in Anhui went to the streets to protest about their frozen accounts. As a result, these clients were denied access to their accounts, which totaled 40 billion yuan ($6 billion)—amidst a growing financial crisis in China.
These small village banks have misled their customers with high-return interest rates to compete with larger institutions.
Yu Zhou Xin Min Sheng Village Bank, Shangcai Huimin Country Bank, and Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank froze deposits on April 18, citing internal system upgrades. Depositors didn’t hear anything back from them. And after weeks of radio silence, some began to gather in Henan’s provincial capital of Zhengzhou to demand regulators act more forcefully.
The protests began online before they went out to the streets, with the biggest one breaking out on May 23, before officials retaliated harshly, even to the extent of using the country’s mobile health codes to seize demonstrators.
This is huge. Don't know how this will end. Henan bank is NOT the only one that is having problems with liquidity. All four Chinese banks are having the same issue. Some depositors found they can save and can NOT withdraw money with their bank cards. #bankrun #China #CCP pic.twitter.com/5WYYgpmIWP
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) July 10, 2022
More than 200 depositors were allegedly barred from traveling to Zhengzhou by changing their COVID health codes from green to red. On the other hand, those who registered to enter Henan with no connection to the frozen funds didn’t encounter such technical issues. Meanwhile, those who managed to slip in, “their codes turned red as soon as they scanned the city’s health codes,” Reuters reported.
Harsh retaliation against protesters
Once freed from the “digital handcuffs,” more protesters across China came to Zhengzhou, assembling in front of the branch office on July 10 to demand back their savings.
— 河南村镇银行维权 (@Qwaszx179730654) July 10, 2022
Hundreds of uniformed police officers and heavyset men in white shirts attacked the protesters and dragged some down a flight of stairs before loading them into buses.
Citizens storm the Bank of China in Zhengzhou over bank account freezes. Banks froze millions of dollars in deposits last April, simply explaining to savers that they need to upgrade their internal systems. Since then, customers have not received any kind of communication. pic.twitter.com/XS9zuXRuEK
— RadioGenova (@RadioGenova) July 10, 2022
A week after the harsh retaliation, regulators finally responded and assured the depositors they would be repaid. They vowed to improve risk management to prevent such financial crises from spreading across the region and in the future.
However, only those depositors with less than 50,000 yuan ($7,500) will receive repayment starting July 25, according to the local offices of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, with details for the rest to be announced later.
Furthermore, those who used “additional channels” to obtain higher interest payments or those suspected of dealing with “illegal funds” will not be repaid.
The central government has always bailed out banks and businesses in hot water, but as the economy deteriorates, this has become increasingly difficult to resolve. Last week, China reported its lowest growth rate since the beginning of the covid pandemic at 0.4 percent.
The Hanan banking scandal has exposed more systemic issues in China’s financial system that result in distrust and fear among its citizens, leading to increasing social instability.