Time for Beijing to stop its media propaganda

Frank Ching says Beijing should realise that its propaganda in the media only muddies the water and hurts co-operation with others

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 3:09am

The election of Xi Jinping as president provided an occasion for the People's Daily to request an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser of US president Jimmy Carter.

The "transcript" of the interview was published in the paper's English-language online edition. I put "transcript" in quotation marks because, as it turns out, it was not a full account of what Brzezinski said. His praise of China was published in full but his most critical remarks were left out.

Asked about China's achievements since 1978, Brzezinski said much of China then "was still living in the late agricultural age". Since then, he said, "Every time I go to China I am just stunned by the rapidity of the change … You are creating at least for, I would say, probably between one-fourth and one-third of your population, an ultra-modern society as advanced as anything in the world."

The reporter asked whether conflict between America and China was inevitable. Brzezinski said, "What worries me these days is what I see in the Chinese press." What followed was the most sensitive part of the interview, when Brzezinski addressed the rise of nationalism in China.

He cited several examples of what was appearing in the Chinese press but all were censored. One was an article in Outlook Weekly last August, which alleged that the strategic objective of the US "is to ensure its leading status in the entire Asia Pacific region, build a trans-pacific order centred on the United States, and continue its Pacific dominance … The key link here is to sow discord in the good neighbourly, friendly, and co-operative relations between China and countries on its periphery."

Brzezinski said: "In other words, the US is accused of deliberately promoting - deliberately promoting - discord between China and its neighbours."

After censoring more of his remarks, the People's Daily allows Brzezinski to speak again. "Your press is an official speaker," he said, "and you are creating an atmosphere in China in which you are stirring up a very powerful social force, which is nationalism. You can create … an atmosphere dominated by nationalism, which will make it impossible for you to co-operate with us. And it will make it impossible for us to co-operate with you."

Brzezinski is right to point out that the press is controlled. Although the media is more diversified than before, commentaries reflect official policy. Beijing must realise the atmosphere being created by its propaganda will make conflict with the US much more likely - conflict that neither side wants.

Already, China is living with the result of years of anti-Japanese propaganda, which makes any resolution of the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands unlikely. In fact, anti-Japanese sentiment in China has resulted in the rise of nationalism on the Japanese side - something Chinese propagandists didn't realise would happen.

The Chinese leadership, if it is serious about seeking advice, should take Brzezinski's words to heart and stop the propaganda before it is too late.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@scmp.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1