As we reported yesterday, the People’s Daily provides a fascinating glimpse into how the Taiwan visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though international headline news and a serious point of unhappiness for China, takes third, fourth, or even fifth place against the country’s domestic politics. The top priority in the pages of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper is to pave the path for Xi Jinping’s continued elevation at the 20th National Congress in a few months’ time.
Repeating the pattern today, the People’s Daily front page is a one-two-three hit of power signaling for Xi Jinping: a commentary on how the general secretary has led a “great self-revolution” of the Party in a new era of socialism; a Party puff piece about how everything is fine economically thanks to Xi’s “strategizing and raising the flag to point the way”; and a lineup of voices gilding “Xi Jinping Thought” for its coming apotheosis (“A people at the forefront of the times cannot be without theoretical thinking for the times.”)
And Nancy? Once again, she is pushed to page three, where she gets a generous dressing down. The entire page is a register of China’s official pique over the Pelosi visit, most of it drumming over the same points made yesterday.
But the top piece, a compilation of remarks from a grab bag of international voices on the Taiwan question, merits closer scrutiny. It is a textbook example of a key tactic in China’s international communication – the grooming of token voices to relay the CCP’s position on any issue as required, often with quotes that shamelessly mirror official-speak, or are apparently invented out of whole cloth.
It has long been a priority for the Chinese Communist Party to maintain a network of quotable international sources. These sources often include minor political party leaders, particularly from socialist or other left-leaning parties, as well as scholars and political commentators who appear virtually nowhere outside of Chinese official state media reporting.
Today’s article on page three is called “International Society Fiercely Condemns Pelosi for Hurried Visit to China’s Taiwan Region” (国际社会强烈谴责佩洛西窜访中国台湾地区). So let’s have a look at what this “international society” looks like through the lens of the CCP’s flagship newspaper.
After a brief histrionic summary of the Pelosi visit as a “serious trampling on international law,” the roundup of international voices begins with a hanging, unattributed quote that reads: “Pelosi’s conduct not only damages China-US relations but also amounts to a serious threat to regional and global peace.”
Further down in the article, this quote is attributed to Eduardo Regalado of the International Policy Research Center of Cuba (CIPI), discussed below. Placed at the top, however, the impression is that this comes from United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, who is mentioned first in the story. During a daily press briefing on August 2, Dujarric more or less dodged a reporter’s question on the Pelosi visit, simply pointing them to the 1971 UN resolution 2758: “I mean, the only thing I will say is that the policy of the United Nations on the issue of . . . on this issue is that we are guided by General Assembly resolution 2758 from 1971 on one China.”
The next remark in the piece comes from Ignacio Martinez, an international relations expert from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Martinez calls Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a serious violation of the one-China principle, and says, curiously echoing China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, that “the United States should never play with fire on the Taiwan issue.”
Right at the start, Martinez illustrates the curious nature of China’s international experts. Search “Ignacio Martinez” and “National Autonomous University of Mexico” and you might expect academic results – published papers, research projects, perhaps even a faculty profile. Instead, all 12 of the links on the first page of results dealing with the same “Ignacio Martinez” are reports from Chinese state media and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 2016, Martinez “spoke highly of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee.” In January 2017, he was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying that Xi Jinping’s New Year’s greeting “reflected China’s confidence and style as a major power.” The report was shared through China Human Rights, the official website of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, a front organization that traces back to the Central Propaganda Department through the website’s publisher, the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC).
Last year, Martinez told Xinhua, in a piece published on the Chinese government’s website, that “China will play a crucial role” in sustainable infrastructure, environment, and technology. In March this year, Martinez told the China Daily, published by the government’s Information Office, that “China does not just talk about multilateralism, but has taken real actions.” Three months later, he was interviewed by CGTN and railed against the “so-called democratic criteria” of the United States.
Next in the People’s Daily lineup to represent “international society” is José Luis Centella, the president of the Communist Party of Spain, who says (though quotation marks are never used) that Pelosi’s “provocative behavior” (挑衅行为) in visiting Taiwan exposes “the consistent hegemonic thinking of the United States in international relations.”
Centella, too, is no freshman when it comes to amplifying positive views of China’s leadership. Commanding virtually no attention in the international media, he is a regular in China’s state media. Like many leaders of minor political parties, Centella has obliged China by participating in its regular “political parties summit,” an opportunity for the CCP to develop contacts – and external propaganda sources – through a sub-national level exchange. He was among the “many political leaders” in July 2021 who “lauded the governing experience” of the CCP, according to an article published online by the State Council Information Office.
In a video produced by GLOBALink, Xinhua News Agency’s global news service, Centenella was among several party leaders praising China to celebrate the centennial of the CCP. And most recently — before his Pelosi potshot in the People’s Daily — he appeared in a Xinhua special this week in which “political parties of various countries” opposed the House Speaker’s visit.
The pattern persists when we come to Eduardo Regalado of the International Policy Research Center of Cuba (CIPI), whose unattributed quote tops today’s People’s Daily article.
In October 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the PRC taking its seat at the United Nations, Regalado told Xinhua that “China is sending a strong message to the international community about the importance of multilateralism and international cooperation.” In January this year, ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Regalado heaped praise on the CCP as he spoke to the China Daily, saying that the “leadership and role of the Communist Party of China has been fundamental for the development of the Chinese society in the sports arena and the country as a whole.”
In May, Regalado was a guest at the Chinese Embassy in Cuba as it celebrated “International Chinese Language Day 2022.” Just days earlier, he was quoted by Xinhua stressing that China is “fundamental to the development of Caribbean countries in the coming years” – the article appearing also on the news agency’s Spanish-language channel.
Regalado has published scholarship outside the fishbowl of China’s external propaganda apparatus. His book China and its International Relations (China y sus relaciones internacionales), a collection of writings on China’s foreign policy, was published in April 2021. But his penchant for sounding off with positivity about any and every event that China hosts, and every news event that troubles its leaders, can be astonishing.
In November last year, as Xinhua cast about for an expert to praise the 4th China International Import Expo (CIIE) about to open in Shanghai, the Cuban scholar, presumably not attending, was happy to oblige with all the gusto of a marketing agency: “This fair will be a fundamental platform for exhibitors, business people, and government officials from the entire world to come together,” he said.
Pluck any personality out of today’s People’s Daily story and you will find similar paper trails across Chinese state media. There is Luciana Santos, chairwoman of the Brazilian Communist Party, who tells us that “Pelosi ignored repeated serious warnings from China.” You can find her on China National Radio (CNR) praising China’s “construction of modern socialism led by the CCP.” Or on Xinhua’s GLOBALink, insisting that “China would not see the tremendous growth and development achieved in society today without the Communist Party of China.”
There is Bambang Suryono, chairman of the Asia Innovation Study Center, an Indonesian think tank, whose state media credits are a mile long. And Ghassan Youssef, a Syrian political analyst and frequent state media soundbiter, who told Xinhua late last year that China’s economic achievements in Xinjiang are “undeniable,” and that the US is manipulating public opinion about the region for “political goals.”
None of this is to say there are no real voices in the world that oppose Pelosi’s Taiwan visit for reasons strategic, political, or personal. Real voices, however, are not the stuff external propaganda is made of. China’s leaders grumble that they cannot control the stage, that they lack sufficient “discourse power” to hold the realm of ideas. But shadow puppetry — that they can do.