China’s nationalist newspaper, the Global Times, has made another enemy - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
A war-of-words started after the city state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on its official website on Friday, denouncing a Global Times online report entitled “Lee Hsien Loong: China could gain Diaoyu Islands, but lose its international standing” as “inaccurate” and “misleading”.
“Using a sensational headline, the article took Prime Minister Lee's comments completely out of context and grossly distorted and misreported what he said. Such unprofessional reporting is unhelpful and could harm bilateral relations and affect people-to-people ties,” the statement said.
The Global Times quickly hit back, arguing that the article was a re-post from a story by Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao. But the article appeared to have been removed from the Ta Kung Pao website as the url provided by the Global Times no longer worked on Saturday.
The quotes from Singapore's Lee were made at the 19th Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia, which was recently held in Tokyo. Lee mentioned the controversial issue of China and the Diaoyu Islands. He said: “What you [China] gain on the Senkakus [Diaoyu Islands] or the South China Sea... you lose in terms of your broader reputation and standing in the world, you have to make that calculation very carefully.” (The whole text of Lee’s answer)
But the article published by the Global Times seems to have taken this out of context, ignoring positive comments Lee made, such as him saying: “Countries in the [Asian] region have benefited from China's development”. Lee also said he “would not criticise China”.
In its statement, the Global Times said it was against journalistic protocol to criticise a publication which was not the original source of the news - given that it had copied a Ta Kung Pao report “word by word”.
“We are surprised and disappointed Singapore’s foreign ministry issued inaccurate accusations against a foreign media organisation,” the Global Times said on Weibo.
Apparently irritated by the criticism, Hu Xijin, the Global Times’ editor-in-chief, issued a scathing statement on his own Weibo account on Friday.
“I don't know much about the professionalism of staff workers at Singapore’s foreign ministry,” he wrote. ''But please don’t refer to the Diaoyu Islands as ‘Senkakus’ next time.”
The tirade happened the same week the Chinese government launched a criminal investigations into four people in an attempt to “eradicate a breeding ground for internet rumours”.
“So if those people have to pay for spreading ‘rumours’, why should Hu and his colleagues get away with re-publishing a false report?,” one of China’s netizens asked on Saturday, in an opinion echoed by many others.
The unusually well-publicised police operation has also intensified criticism against influential "public intellectuals" by accusing them of working with bloggers to disseminate false information on the internet.
Entrepreneur Kai-fu Lee, with more than 51 million followers on Weibo, admitted on Saturday he had re-posted the Global Times report, but had promptly deleted it on finding out it was inaccurate.
Summarising the lesson learned from “spreading untruthful information”, Kai-fu Lee wrote, "media and internet public intellectuals both share responsibilities and publishers should delete false information [after they find out] and apologise.”