Age of hyperbole: China dials it down while America ramps it up

Yonden Lhatoo contrasts Beijing’s growing embarrassment over boastful claims about China’s might with the Trump administration’s unabashed bombast about the power and greatness of the United States

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 10:26pm

As authoritarian as China’s government may be, it’s starting to cringe at unembarrassed domestic hyperbole over the country’s perceived greatness, conscious of being ridiculed and losing its credibility on the global stage due to backfiring propaganda.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece has joined a chorus of warnings that overblown media claims about China’s might, while trying to stir up nationalistic sentiment, would ultimately prove detrimental to the country.

“Recently, headlines like ‘the US is so scared’, ‘Japan is in awe of’, ‘Europe now regrets [China’s achievements]’ have been getting lots of clicks,” an online commentary on the People’s Daily website noted. “But most of these apparently explosive articles … are worrying.”

The commentary called out reports propagating sweeping claims that “China is the undisputed No 1 in several areas”, unsubstantiated boasts that “Chinese technological power has surpassed that of the United States”, and hollow generalisations about the country “taking the global centre-stage”.

“Arrogance won’t make a country powerful,” the commentary cautioned. “Deliberately trying to provoke extreme sentiment and spread bias will trap the public in a vicious circle of arrogance and self-aggrandisement [based on] fragmented information.”

Someone tell that to US President Donald Trump and the sycophantic shoeshiners in both his administration and his cheerleading media squad known as Fox News. Take, for example, the coverage of Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore last month.

Fox host Sean Hannity: “President Trump ushered in a new era of diplomacy.” North Korean news presenter: “Our venerable supreme leader comrade opened a new, triumphant era of diplomacy.”

Fox host Jeanine Pirro: “This is something that many analysts and pundits thought was totally impossible.” North Korean news presenter: “Who could have imagined that this moment was possible?”

Get the drift? The US president thrives on, and is not in the least embarrassed by, flattery spewing from the mouths of toadying lickspittles like senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, who is known for cringeworthy quotes such as: “President Trump is the most gifted politician of our time. He is the best orator to hold that office in generations.”

And who could forget that surreal moment a year ago when Trump held his first full cabinet meeting, and soaked it all in on camera as each man and woman at the table took turns to declare how much they adored him and were grateful to be in his presence? When was the last time you saw such a spectacle on Chinese state television?

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It’s increasingly obvious that a new age of unfettered hyperbole has taken over “the greatest country in the world” under a leader for whom everything is “terrific” and/or “tremendous”.

On the flip side, we saw how China blocked the American TV station HBO after comedian John Oliver’s hilarious takedown of President Xi Jinping. That was actually nothing compared with how Oliver and other late-night talk show hosts constantly savage Trump and get away with it because free speech is so deeply enshrined in, and protected by, the US Constitution.

I guess that’s what continues to make America greater than China, in that respect, but the times they are a-changin’, as the old song goes. Give Trump some more time to dismantle the free press, the judiciary and academia, and we’ll see.

Next will come the rhetoric from Trump’s America as it fights the trade war it has started with China. It will be truly “terrific” and “tremendous”. Anyone who disagrees is just “weak” and a “loser”, “believe me”.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post