At a regular press conference yesterday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) responded at length to a research report to be released today by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Brussels-based federation of journalism unions, that looks broadly at China’s attempts to push its official media messaging across the world in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a preview by the New York Times, the IFJ report, written by Australia-based scholars Louisa Lim, Julia Bergin and Johan Lidberg, sought out journalists in 54 countries, based on the IFJ network, to canvass their views on Chinese influence tactics. “As the pandemic started to spread, Beijing used its media infrastructure globally to seed positive narratives about China in national media,” the report says, “as well as mobilizing more novel tactics such as disinformation.”
Hua’s one-two-three rebuttal of the IFJ report yesterday (she actually makes five points neatly in succession) suggests she was clearly prepared for the question, a softball lobbed by a reporter from Hong Kong’s China Review News Agency (CNRTT). The report from the New York Times might offer a clue as to why she might have been so prepared. In his report, Ben Smith notes that he reached out for comment to Zhao Lijian (赵立坚), deputy director general of the Information Department at MOFA. Briefed by Smith on the contents of the IFJ report, Zhao responded: “The accusation on China is what the U.S. has been doing all along.”
In her rebuttal yesterday, Hua continued with Zhao’s line of reasoning, suggesting that China has merely responded to tactics employed by the United States. She noted in particular the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” which in Subtitle D, “Countering Chinese Communist Party Influence,” allocates 300 million dollars for a Chinese Influence Fund to “counter the malign influence” of the CCP globally.
Accusing the US of “naked hegemony in public opinion or discourse” and arguing that media in the West, beholden to their capitalist masters, serve a conspiracy to disparage China, Hua suggests that Party-state media “uphold the principle of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries.”
Chinese diplomats and state media voiced similar claims to “objectivity” back in February as they objected to a decision by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), the government regulator for broadcasting and telecoms, to withdraw the UK broadcast license for China Global Television Network (CGTN). However, anyone looking closely, even fleetingly, at Chinese official discourse on the role of the media, will understand that they are obliged to serve the interests of the Party-state. In his speech on media policy at the People’s Daily in 2016, Xi Jinping emphasized that media “must be surnamed Party” (必须姓党), and that they must love, serve and protect the CCP.
Hua also repeats the notion, introduced by Xi Jinping in August 2013, that China must tell its own story. While Hua portrays this policy, which now underpins the “external propaganda” of the CCP, as merely about diversity of views globally, it should be borne in mind that this Chinese “voice” is conceived at the policy level as a managed voice, and it assumes restrictions on speech within China that have grown more severe in the past 10 years.
A translation of Hua Chunying’s remarks follows:
I also saw this New York Times article. The report it cites is not yet available, so I can’t comment in detail. However, I see that the report claims that it finds that China is increasing dissemination of positive narratives about China around the world. To me, this feels like an affirmation of the work of our Chinese journalists.
I can start with some preliminary responses based on the relevant elements of the New York Times report you just mentioned.
First, the world is inherently rich and pluralistic, and in the field of media, there should not be only CNN and BBC, but all countries should have their own voices. As a country with 1.4 billion people, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with 5,000 years of continuous civilization, and with the world’s second-largest economy and being the largest developing country, China certainly deserves to have its own place in the international public opinion landscape.
Secondly, the US side, on the one hand, abuses its hegemony of discourse to unscrupulously attack China with disinformation under the guise of “freedom.” On the other hand, it places ideology above the principle of objectivity and truthfulness. It rationalizes its political operations by smearing and suppressing Chinese media. This is a naked hegemony of public opinion or discourse. In the face of such wanton smear attacks and rumors and lies against China, China certainly must make its voice heard and must state the truth on a range of important issues involving the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving behind an objective and truthful collective human narrative and memory. This is the genuinely responsible attitude of a responsible country.
Third, we Chinese preach that no one can stand without trust, that no endeavor can prosper without trust, and that we must treat others as we would like to be treated. Chinese media uphold the principles of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries. I have seen the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” passed by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which proposes to spend 300 million dollars a year to disseminate negative information that smears China. The New York Times report mentions that China sometimes provides some anti-epidemic materials to media in certain countries. This means nothing whatsoever, and has nothing to do with influence, infiltration or propaganda.
Fourth, the systems of each country are different, and how media operate will naturally vary. To evaluate the professionalism of media, the most important thing is whether they adhere to the ethics of journalistic professionalism, and whether they can report objectively and fairly. Xinhua is an internationally renowned news agency with a history of nearly 90 years, providing authoritative and professional news and information to its various users around the world in accordance with the common operating rules of news agencies. I think Xinhua’s cooperation with other national news agencies is no different from the cooperation between the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Kyodo News Agency and other news agencies around the world. Just because Xinhua comes from China, a socialist country, does not mean you can deny Xinhua and other Chinese media the right to exchange and cooperate with one another. To accuse Xinhua and other Chinese media when they carry out normal news and information exchanges and cooperation with news agencies in other countries shows ideological bias and political discrimination.