Wednesday, April 02, 2008
A WAR OF WORDS
s China wages what its leaders now call a "people's war" both through military force intimidation, and stepping up its "Strike Hard" campaign and associated "patriotic" re-education sessions, the propaganda offensives are crucial to getting its position accepted by both internal and external audiences. Internally at least, it seems to be working.
The authorities fueled a campaign by enraged Chinese citizens against Times Online, and their Beijing correspondent Jane Macartney quips, "It is not often that you wake up to find yourself infamous. With great excitement, a Chinese friend called yesterday to tell me that I had become an overnight sensation. It would seem that I am, in my persona as a Times correspondent, the most hated person in China today."
Chinese students in the UK engage in a little vigilante action against a bed shop displaying the Tibetan flag (reported here a few days ago), and a rally in Toronto, purported to be in support of Beijing's policies and "anti-violence", turned ugly last weekend. Video from the rally here and here.
"Dalai Lama die there!" some Chinese shouted at a group of Tibetans who had gathered across the street from the square to protest. "Leave Canada!" others urged.We have anti-cnn.com and now anti-anti-cnn.com doing battle over the provenance of photographs. Let's be clear here, there are no photographs of Chinese police beating Tibetans the way Nepali police have been doing -- the lovely and talented CCP government makes sure of that. Some news outlets have been sloppy by captioning pictures with "Lhasa" when it should have been "Kathmandu." These mistakes are corrected, something which never happens with state-run media.
CNN was accused of nefariously cropping a picture, leaving out a wider view of some rock-throwers on March 14. The fact that the photo was titled with "Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles on a street in the capital Lhasa" seemed to not register with the complainants.
Shrill, Cultural Revolution-style denunciations are the order of the day when it comes to official PRC statements regarding Dalai Lama. He is the "cat's paw of international anti-China forces". Protesting monks are the "scum of Buddhism". And foreign critics have a "dark and despicable mentality". Kellee Tsai, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University says ordinary Chinese are "so thoroughly socialized by this idea," that any challenge triggers highly emotional reactions.
Such perceptions, Tsai said, extend to both ordinary citizens and well-educated intellectuals and officials, who may have been exposed to alternative viewpoints.Former British cabinet minister Michael Portillo may have overtaken Jane Macartney for most hated person in China by the day after her rude awakening. He had written a commentary in the Sunday Times, and was promptly attacked on the pages of People's Daily.
In an example of the depth of feeling, Tsai said a graduate student of hers received threats and insults from Chinese graduate students overseas after circulating an open letter from dissidents calling on Beijing to open talks with the Dalai Lama...
"Those who suggest that China might tone down its rhetoric or relax media controls are also likely to be viewed as being overly influenced by Western ideas, sympathetic to secessionist forces, and perhaps even unpatriotic," Tsai said.
The People's Daily called Portillo's commentary "the prejudice of low intelligence". It said that "as a former Conservative politician and minister of defence, [he] should have some political and social experience, an international perspective and some consciousness of respect for others".The commentary was later republished in Xinhua, the Party mouthpiece, showing that it had "high-level approval." Observers in Beijing tell the Times there are "signs of factional discord" among the leadership. An indication that the hard-liners may be ascendant is the apparent approval for "a stream of extremist statements on websites."
However, it said, the article was devoid of such qualities: "We can only see his vacuity, crankiness, ignorance and arrogance." It was intended "to bring shame on China in a groundless and immoderate way".
One commentary, published in English under a pseudonym on the website of the China Daily, was distinguished by its tone.In Indonesia we call that maling teriak maling ("thief cries thief").
It read: “Who do these white bastards think they are? Let us not forget, in short, their racism against us, the children of the Dragon, the children of Heaven.” [my emphasis]
The harsh rhetoric is undoubtedly intended to stoke hyper-nationalism among the masses. But with China placing so much importance on a successful Olympic Games in a few months, supposedly ready to welcome the world with open arms for its big coming out party, the incendiary tone currently heard may well backfire.
"When a big crisis happens here, they show their true nature," said Liu Xiaobo, a liberal dissident and government critic. "I am really shocked by the language they used concerning the Dalai Lama. They are talking about a 'People's War.' That is a phrase from the Cultural Revolution."Stoking nationalistic fervor in this way can have unpredictable consequences which may spin out of the government's control. They're playing with fire.
"The language they are using about everything has been Cultural Revolution hyperbole," said Susan Shirk, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs and the author of "China: Fragile Superpower." "This does not look like the reaction of a strong, confident leadership."Nationalism is sometimes called China's state religion, and as recently as 2005 the authorities played with it against Japan. They very nearly lost control of the tiger.
The government tried to control - some would say manipulate - the anti-Japanese protests that escalated during a tense diplomatic tussle between China against Japan. But the protests became violent and grew so rapidly that the government finally forced them to end.The latest official conspiracy theory is that Dalai Lama is organising "suicide squads", or as the spokesman for Public Security put it "gan si dui," a rarely used phrase which translates as "dare-to-die corps." The spokesman provided no details or evidence of this.
Andrew Fischer, a fellow at the London School of Economics who researches Chinese development policies in Tibetan areas of China, dismissed Wu's warnings as "completely ridiculous."Of course, none of the world's people who are familiar with Dalai Lama's teachings will believe this rubbish, but it seems to work well enough on a captive audience. It's a shame that the Tibetan exile government even has to answer such ridiculous charges. An independent investigation would do wonders to clear the air, but the CCP will never allow such a thing.
What China is trying to do "is justify this massive troop deployment, a massive crackdown on Tibetan areas and they're trying to justify intensification of hard-line policies," Fischer said.
The Tibetan authorities in exile, including Dalai Lama, have no opportunity to reach the people of China the way the CCP can reach across the entire world with its message. (Why are Xinhua, People's Daily etc. rated by Google News as reliable news agencies?)
Dalai Lama's recent personal appeal to his "Chinese brothers and sisters" went nearly completely unheard in China.
The government has ensured its control over Tibet-related information in the traditional media by the simple expedient of making sure that only news and commentary from Xinhua, the official news agency, has appeared in papers or on TV.The independent-minded weekly Southern Weekend, popular with intellectuals, has written nothing on Tibet over the past three weeks.
Not a single case has come to light of any Chinese newspaper using any other source over the last three weeks.
"If they see only Xinhua articles and none others being published elsewhere, they will see that as a signal that they should not talk about it," says a former editor at Southern Weekend, who asked to remain anonymous.China's internal discussion on Tibet is permitted only on one side. The writers and intellectuals who wrote the 12 point open statement, published about a week ago, were also little heard in their own country -- though it was widely reported abroad.
"If they cannot write about it properly, they think it is better not to write," he adds.