On The Global Times

There is some debate as to what degree The Global Times, the relentlessly jingoistic English-language daily published in Beijing, is in sync with the government and the party. While some China-watchers suggest that the GT is a pure party mouthpiece, others believe that it Zhongnanhai’s leashed pit-bull, useful to scare the neighbors, but in no way representative of the leash-holders true nature.

Fine.

Let us stipulate the following:

  • The Chinese government is not monolithic, and thus does not hold a single unified viewpoint on anything;
  • Opinions expressed in the media are often trial balloons; and
  • State media have, in the past, often represented minority points-of-view in the party.

All the above said, it is also true that Xi is wont to visit key media outlets – including The Global Times – to underscore that it is the duty of all media “love the party, protect the party, and closely align with the party leadership in thought, politics and action.” It is apparent to anyone watching the media in China – and that’s a lot of what we have to do in my business – that whatever tolerance there might have been for a degree of editorial heterodoxy is evaporating fast, if it has not already turned to fog.

Thus the assertion that The Global Times is offering opinions at odds with the thinking in Zhongnanhai to be far less credible today than three years ago. Lacking evidence to the contrary, we can only believe that the GT speaks with the voice and support of the highest party leaders.

What the World Thinks about China and the US

America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s
Pew Global Attitudes Project

July 18, 2013

The Pew Research Center has released the full text and backup materials for a report that the Center interprets as saying that the US is still largely seen in a better light than China worldwide.

The entire report is worth a read, but I came away with a few interesting tidbits after diving into the data a bit.

There are chunks of Asia that view China more favorably than others, and that view the US more favorably. Distance, it seems, lends enchantment: Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, and Australians prefer the US, while the Indonesians, Malaysians, and Pakistanis favor China. The reasons for these preferences are likely complex, but they hint at the possible emergence of rival spheres of influence in the region.

It is also fascinating that the nations preferring China are predominantly Muslim. This gets even more interesting when you note that China is viewed far more favorably than the US in the Middle East – and in no other region. At first blush, China seems to have avoided Muslim approbation for its handling of its Uighur population. At the same time, the comparison is deceiving. Diving into the data, it is clear that the people of the Mideast are divided at best over whether China is a positive or negative influence.

One other matter that caught the eye was that Europeans believe that China is already the world’s dominant economy, but the rest of the world agrees that China has not yet passed the US. Again, divining reasons for such perceptions is difficult, but recent Chinese dollar diplomacy in the EU could not have hurt.

The report is available for free download, but for those without a lot of time, there is a slideshow available for a quick peruse.

The Beginning of the End of the South China Morning Post

South China Morining Post Office

South China Morining Post Office (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hugo Restall: The Censor at Hong Kong’s Post – WSJ.com.

We like to stay out of the media-on-media mud wrestling matches that too often take the place of good criticism, especially when it is one of the Murdoch publications attempting to take the upper hand. But when the critic is the Wall Street Journal’s Hugo Restall, one of the region’s most respected editors, it behooves us all to take note.

Restall’s subject is the South China Morning Post. For those of you too young to remember, for decades the Post was basically East Asia’s English language newspaper of record. It produced stories that were as likely to be critical of Beijing as they were of Her Majesty’s government in Hong Kong. The paper was never The Times of London, but it drew its editorial inspiration from Fleet Street and did its damnedest to help all of the gweiloh make sense of an otherwise opaque city and region.

One could argue that the paper’s downhill slide began when Rupert Murdoch bought it and took it private in 1987, but I think the first chill winds probably blew through the newsroom in 1984, when Margaret Thatcher agreed to return Hong Kong to China in 1997. Even in those heady years between the beginning of China’s “reform and opening” and the blood-spattered summer of 1989, anyone believing that the Post’s tradition of western investigative journalism would flourish under Beijing’s gaze was probably engaging in wishful thinking.

By the late 1990s, after the Kuok family had purchased the paper (the same Kuok family of real estate tai-pans that owns the China World and Shangri-La brands), the Post’s standard of journalism had fallen so far that my friends and I were referring to the paper as Asia’s Largest Collegiate Newspaper.

While that was probably unfair to U.S. college newspapers, what kept the paper from declining into the “suitable for fish-wrap only” category was a small, elite team of journalists and editors who fought a wily rear-guard action against those who saw the paper’s duty as being a credible toady to Beijing. As with most bands of hardy guerrillas, however, the casualties mounted until there was literally one guy left: the Beijing-based Paul Mooney.

Paul is a journalist of profound integrity. Though he is old enough to have kids in college, he has expanded his craft in the digital era so that he not only writes sharp copy, he also acts as his on photographer and videographer. Working largely on his own, he has produced meticulously researched work that other journalists use as a starting point for their own stories about the dark, slimy underbelly of China’s development miracle. And lest you think I am a fanboy (he did quote me heavily in a Newsweek story about ten years ago that turned out to be very important for me), it is worth mentioning that he has at least twice won the Hong Kong Human Rights Press Award, and most recently won a Society of Publishers in Asia award for his work.

The Post’s China editor, a former China Daily journalist named Wang Xiangwei, apparently spent ten months spiking every substantive piece Mooney wanted to do, and effectively canned Mooney by not renewing his contract.

The easiest response at a moment like this is outrage, but I am just sad. What was once one of the finest newspapers in Asia has now been reduced to a propaganda sheet. Asia is now, essentially, without a reliable newspaper of record, either online or off. Combined with the end of the Far Eastern Economic Review in 2009 after a prolonged, induced decline, the best coverage of Asia will have to come from media companies outside of the region – or not at all.

As for the Post itself, I would wager the Kuoks will keep it alive somehow, but we won’t be reading it.

Radio, Television, and Public Diplomacy

A reporter for RFE/RL's Afghan Service intervi...

Image via Wikipedia

BBG’s Strategic 5yr Plan: to inform, engage and connect.

In the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States focused considerable effort on bringing to the world what can either be described as “the truth,” or “the truth according to the United States government ” with services like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. We can argue about the value of these broadcasts to the people of Latin America, but it seems clear these broadcasts provided a critical information lifeline to the people of China and the countries locked behind the USSR’s Iron Curtain.

In the years since the opening of China and the end of the Cold War, however, these services have lacked the kind of clear mission they once had, and the rise of the Internet calls into question the value of broadcast services generally. I would argue, though, that America’s global broadcast assets remain a critical part of public diplomacy. Commercial enterprises like CNN and Fox News have their place, but they are not in the business of conducting information activities in support of US foreign policy.

The BBG spells out exactly why it should continue to receive funding over the next four years in its 2012 strategic plan. Admittedly awash in bureaucratese, the concrete steps it outlines take the organization a big step toward regaining the relevance it once had. Even given the glacial speed of governmental organizations, the plan is realistic and doable.

If the plan lacks anything it is a clearer vision of where the organizations need to be in 10 years. More needs to be done than what is outlined here, and both what and why need to be made clearer.

Nonetheless, even die-hard net-heads like myself cannot help but see the value of broadcast in America’s public diplomacy after reading this.

China Internet Insights: China E-Commerce, Logistically Speaking

A Deutsche Bank report that formed the underpinning of Alan Hellawell’s comments at the China 2.0: The Rise of a Digital Superpower conference last week.

I don’t agree with all of Hellawell’s conclusions, but I particularly concur with  his suggestion that business-to-consumer e-commerce in China is going to be most successful when brands rely on platform providers rather than trying to build their own sites. Adidas’ recent announcement that it will be partnering with Taobao is an excellent example.