Author: David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).

Weighing The Costs of Russia’s War

In the sixth installment of its series of strongly-worded broadsides against the United States in the midst of the Russian war in Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper today threw down a new phrase, “financial terrorism” (金融恐怖主义), to refer to sanctions against Russia.

Alongside other rhetorical barbs in the commentary – including “economic hegemonism” (经济霸权主义) and “economic weaponization” (经济武器化) – the provocative phrase underscores China’s determination to divert attention from Russia’s documented atrocities in Ukraine and spin the conflict as resulting primarily from the actions of the United States and its allies.

Page 3 of today’s People’s Daily, with a commentary at bottom by “Zhong Sheng” criticizing the US and accusing it of using “economic weapons” and resorting to “economic terrorism” following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In recent days, people across the world have been shocked to learn of the Russian atrocities in Ukraine, and United Nations chief António Guterres has joined growing calls for a war crimes investigation. But the People’s Daily commentary, “Weaponizing the Economy Will Cause Self-Harm” (将经济武器化必将反噬其身), opens by framing economic considerations resulting from Russia’s war (here minimized as the “Russia-Ukraine conflict”) as the primary concern of the global community:

At present, it has become very difficult for countries around the world to deal with the Covid-19 while preserving their economies and livelihoods. The United States has imposed a series of unilateral sanctions on Russia and threatened to force other countries to comply with America’s unilateral sanctions in disregard of global stability and the livelihood of all countries. The US act of weaponizing the economy and engaging in economic hegemony and financial terrorism has caused widespread concern in the international community and opposition and resistance from many countries.

The commentary, attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view, concludes that the US, in the name of “so-called rules,” has “damaged the international order, creating confrontation and division and seizing the opportunity for profit.” The last reference alludes to the US “military-industrial complex,” which was the subject of an April 2 “Zhong Sheng” commentary called “Who is Intentionally Perpetuating the Conflict?” (谁在有意将冲突长期化?).

The April 2 commentary was similarly scathing about the US, calling it a “hegemonic chariot of war” (霸权战车) that was “held ransom by the military-industrial complex and other interest groups,” and brought “only turmoil and harm to the world and its ordinary people.”

The only usage in the history of the People’s Daily similar to the “financial terrorism” label applied today came on September 29 last year, when the paper directly reported a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in which he “urged the US and its Western allies to stop their application of ‘economic terrorism.’” According to China’s official Xinhua News Agency:

Mekdad said, the United States and its Western allies have applied ‘economic terrorism’ to Iran, Venezuela, Belarus, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria. Syria demands a stop to the application by the US and its Western allies of ‘economic terrorism’ according to international law and UN resolutions.

Today’s “Zhong Sheng” commentary also uses the term “economic weapons,” or jingji wuqi (经济武器), to  refer to US sanctions on Russia resulting from the war, and suggests that the US has “weaponized its economic” (经济武器化). This term has a longer history in the People’s Daily, and interestingly was applied by China with a sense of moral justification to the Soviet Union in 1979, in the midst of deep bilateral tensions. China’s attack on Vietnam in February 1979 prompted a stern warning from the Soviets, which accelerated the transfer of arms to Vietnam, and border tensions between China and the USSR had rankled for a decade.

An article in the People’s Daily on March 20, 1979, is strongly critical of the “hegemonic” actions of the USSR, and echoes calls for the use of “economic weapons” to respond.

A lengthy article on March 20 that year laid out a series of aggressive moves by the USSR across the world, including in Africa and Southeast Asia, and quoted (approvingly) a news source from Thailand that said “the West should use economic weapons to stop the Soviet threat.” The People’s Daily closed with a call for concerted action quite at odds with the spirit of its actions on Russia in recent weeks:

Today, the situation requires all peace-loving countries and peoples to unite and establish a broad united front against Soviet hegemony and take effective and practical steps to jointly deal with the Soviet Union’s aggressive expansion and disrupt its global strategic deployment. Wherever the Soviet Union is aggressively expanding, stop it there. Only in this way will it be possible to stop its rampage, ease tensions, delay the outbreak of world war, and maintain world peace and security.

President Who?

In the month since Russia invaded his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has appeared in hundreds of news articles across China. In just the past week, his name has appeared in at least 71 articles in papers like Shanghai’s Liberation Daily (解放日报), Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News (羊城晚报), Zhejiang Daily (浙江日报), Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报), and the Chongqing Morning Post (重庆晚报).

In many cases, these articles have been official releases from the state-run Xinhua News Agency, like a recent story published in Hubei’s commercial Chutian Metropolis Daily (楚天都市报), pictured further below, which reported on peace talks in Turkey. “Ukrainian President Zelensky said on [March] 29 that the signals emerging from the new round of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were positive,” the report read. Not reported was what Zelensky said immediately after, that these signals “do not drown out the ruptures of Russian shells.” Nevertheless, Zelensky was there in the text, alongside his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

But Zelensky’s presence elsewhere in the Chinese media makes it that much more unusual that the Ukrainian president has been missing entirely from the People’s Daily, the newspaper that matters most when it comes to conveying the official line of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. Through the buzz of coverage in China about the “Russia-Ukraine conflict,” the conspicuous absence of Zelensky from the Party’s flagship newspaper is a salient illustration of China’s alignment with Russia.

A March 31 story (sourced from Xinhua) in Hubei’s commercial Chutian Metropolis Daily (楚天都市报), mentioning Zelensky in the context of peace negotiations in Turkey.

Zelensky has not been mentioned in the People’s Daily through the entire five-week course of the ongoing war in Ukraine. In fact, Zelensky has been mentioned just once in the People’s Daily since a July 14 report last year noting a call with Xi Jinping in which cooperation in fighting COVID-19 was mentioned but nothing whatsoever about Russia. That one mention was on January 5, 2022, when Xi Jinping sent Zelensky a congratulatory message on the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Xi spoke of the “healthy and stable development” of relations between China and Ukraine, of “mutual political trust” and “fruitful cooperation in various fields.” But there was no talk, apparently, of Russia.

Through November and December 2021, as Russia troops massed along the Ukrainian border – no Zelensky in the People’s Daily. Through January, as Russian troops arrived in Belarus for ostensible “military exercises” – no Zelensky in the People’s Daily. For the whole of February, as military maneuvers intensified in Russia and Belarus, and even as Putin’s “special military operation” began in eastern Ukraine – no Zelensky in the People’s Daily.

Putin, meanwhile, has been frequent and prominent news in the paper, with related mention of the “drastic situation in eastern Ukraine.” On February 26, as tanks were pushing toward Kyiv, Putin was front-page news. A piece next to the newspaper’s masthead reported Putin’s call with Xi Jinping, in which the Russian leader had showered praise on the Beijing Olympic Games (the story’s lede). Xi was quoted further down as reiterating “China’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”

As recently as March 30, Putin was mentioned in a People’s Daily report on the hosting in Beijing of a forum called “China and Russia: Common Development and Modernization” (中国与俄罗斯:共同发展与现代化). Xia Baolong, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, gave the opening address at the event, attended by members of Russia’s Duma. Xia said, according to the paper, that “hand-in-hand development and common prosperity is the strategic choice and cooperation between China and Russia,” adding: “President Xi Jinping and President Putin have repeatedly stressed the need to promote a high level of mutual trust between China and Russia that can be constantly translated into cooperation results in various fields, benefiting the people of both countries.”

Reframing Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Two weeks ago CMP took a close look at two commentaries in the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper that hammered hard with allegations of US biological weapons programs in Ukraine, a claim based entirely on information provided by the Russian Defense Ministry and Russian government media in early March. Both People’s Daily commentaries were attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view.

While the biological weapons narrative has been widely discredited, it remains the focus of external propaganda and disinformation by the Chinese Party-state and official media. But beyond the direct and full airing of claims by Russian sources through “mainstream” Chinese outlets like China Central Television, China has organized features, interviews and reports on what it has called the “bio-military empire” (生物军事帝国) of the United States.

One week ago, and other outlets re-ran an interview by the overseas edition of the People’s Daily in which three Chinese international relations experts – including from the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) directly under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – seriously addressed the question: “What exactly do US biolabs overseas do?” The experts repeatedly characterized the US labs as proof of US “hegemonism” (霸权主义), and they called for an international investigation into the Russian claims in the interests of a “new view of security” (新安全观).

The broader agenda behind this state media framing of the “bio-military empire” is a simple one. China’s government has seized on the bioweapons story as the most effective means of distraction and misdirection from the serious questions raised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s deepening alliance with Putin. The wave of official coverage and commentary is an effort to reframe the war in Ukraine, so that the world sees beyond the aggressive actions of Russia and its dictator to the alleged threat posed to global security by the irresponsible and hegemonic behavior of the United States.

Once we are re-focused on the bogeyman of American hegemony, we become receptive to the alternative world view that Putin and Xi Jinping reaffirmed in their February joint statement, that a “transformation of the global governance architecture and world order” is entirely necessary. This is the conviction that underlies China’s information campaign on Ukraine, and the reason for its information alignment with Russia.

Once we are re-focused on the bogeyman of American hegemony, we become receptive to the alternative world view that Putin and Xi Jinping reaffirmed in their February joint statement, that a “transformation of the global governance architecture and world order” is entirely necessary.

This also explains why Chinese state media have so determinedly gazed away from the material suffering of the Ukrainian people. Because that suffering, if not first focused through the lens of American threat and evil, is far too compelling a demonstration of Russia’s offenses and of the pretense of China’s neutrality. So long as we are focused on phantom labs, we can overlook real bombs and real sufferings, and Xi Jinping’s handshake with Putin back in February does not look like an act of extreme foolishness, but an important step toward a new world order. With a crucial Party congress just months away, this is an extremely fragile balance.

America, Rule-Breaker

Perhaps nowhere to date has this official framing of the Ukraine war been so evident as in today’s “Zhong Sheng” column in the People’s Daily,  appearing on page three, which bears the telling headline: “The ‘Bio-military Empire’ Will Not Come Clean on Its Own: Seeing American Hegemony Through the Ukraine Crisis” (生物军事帝国”不可能自证清白: 从乌克兰危机看美式霸权).

Quite transparently here, the Ukraine “crisis” is not about the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, or about the suffering of its people, of whom at least four million are now refugees outside the country. No, it is about the United States. The violator that has trampled on international rules and norms and sown destruction in our world is not Russia, which the column dignifies as a whistleblower informing the international community of the dangerous misdeeds of another power. No, it is the United States.

The latest “Zhong Sheng” commentary appears on page three of today’s People’s Daily newspaper.

“In the face of Russia’s allegations and the concerns of the international community, the United States should, in a responsible manner, make a full clarification of its bio-military activities and cease its exclusive opposition to the establishment of an inspection mechanism,” the commentary says. “It is impossible to prove one’s innocence by clinging to one’s hegemony and running amok, and it is only by effectively complying with international rules and accepting international inspections that one can give the world an explanation and play the role a great power should play.”

Moving on from Tragedy

On Friday last week, the Chinese government officially confirmed that all passengers and crew on board China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 perished in the March 21 crash near the city of Wuzhou while en route from Kunming to Guangzhou. The victims included 123 passengers and 9 crew members. The government’s announcement was included on page four of the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper the next day, March 27.

Government confirmation that all 132 passengers and crew on flight MU5735 perished in the crash is printed on page four of the People’s Daily on March 27.

Sunday, March 28, marked day 7 since the crash, generally an important day in Chinese culture for marking tragedies and remembering the victims. In anticipation, a ceremony was held at the crash site on Saturday, all of the rescue and response team members present observing three minutes of silence for those who perished.

The ceremony was covered by media across China, appearing in nearly all national and regional newspapers on Sunday.

Coverage of Saturday’s ceremony of the victims of flight MU5735 in the Sunday edition of Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily.

As CMP explained in coverage of the media treatment of the tragedy last week, Party-state media have dominated the MU5735 story. It was no surprise that news of the Saturday ceremony came only from the official Xinhua News Agency, as the case for the above story published in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily, and other official sources.

Journalists for non-official media did attempt to reach the scene of the crash on March 22, hoping to report the story over the past week. But access to the area was reportedly tightly controlled. According to one account posted to social media by journalist Du Qiang, the feeling among journalists was that “this time controls were far stricter than in the past.”

Can’t it be arranged for more media to take part in press conferences? And things not just be limited to central media? Can’t China Eastern and relevant government departments prepare a bit more fully, and allow more questions to be asked?

An account of the obstruction of reporting on the flight MU5735 tragedy by non-central media. Image from Zeyi Yang.

Now that fully eight days have passed, the authorities are pushing for everyone to move on from the tragedy – and from related stories and speculation. At this point, according to general practice, media will be discouraged from any further reporting on the crash, possibly through propaganda department directives.

During the first 7 days of a tragedy, the official line is typically that it is too early to “reflect back.” Personal and human stories are too painful and disrespectful while all energy should be on recovery and rescue. Once 7 days have passed, the perspective shifts. It is suddenly time for everyone to move on – because revisiting tragedy, or obsessing about its details, is too painful.

Xi Jinping’s tribute on Monday to the victims will likely be the last word before the results of the official investigation are released weeks or months from now.

Rounding Up the Rumormongers

But for the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s chief internet monitoring and control body, the important work now begins of going after those who spread “rumors” online in the midst of the search and rescue effort.

The CAC announced yesterday that it was in the process of tracing online rumors spread in the past 7 days in order to determine their source and hold those responsible to account. The office said it was working with websites and major internet and social media platforms to ferret out those who had shared “illegal information,” spread rumors and shared “conspiracy theories” about the MU5735 crash.

So far, the CAC reported, more than 279,000 pieces of “illegal and irregular information” had been cleared from the internet, including “more than 167,000 pieces of rumor-based information.” In addition, 2,713 user accounts had been removed and 1,295 discussion topics “dissolved” (解散).

The CAC separately released a list of 7 online rumors about the MU5735 tragedy, saying that the majority of these had come from personal online accounts, but that there was also involvement by “regular forces,” or zhengguijun (正规军), a reference in this case to official media such as Taiyuan Broadcast TV (太原广播电视台), which is named by the CAC as the source of one rumor about a passenger who did not board the plane.

A March 26, 2022, notice from the CAC lists out 7 online rumors about the MU5735 tragedy.

Human Stories of War

In a brief study of Chinese media coverage of the Ukraine war earlier this month, the China Media Project found that while the majority of media reports inside China refer to the war as either the “Russia-Ukraine conflict” or a “special military operation,” there were notable exceptions.

Certainly, coverage of Ukraine in the official state media has emphasized a number of Party-state frames – about the US and NATO as the instigators of the “conflict,” about US hypocrisy and alleged disinformation (as China actively spreads Russia and homegrown disinformation about alleged US bioweapons activities), and about China as a peace-loving and responsible power.

But other media have worked to tell more human and nuanced stories about the war, and to emphasize the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Those stories, which reflect the persistence of professional journalism values within a difficult environment, deserve to be acknowledged as part of the story of China’s media story on Ukraine.

As we noted in our study, Shanghai’s Xinmin Weekly, published by Shanghai United Media Group (SUMG), the very same conglomerate that publishes the official Party newspaper Jiefang Daily, ran a feature story on March 3 called “Witnessing Her Decline,” which followed Sun Guang (孙光), a 19 year-old Chinese student in Ukraine whose life was upended by the war. The story was unflinching from its first line: “In the early hours of February 24, 2022, Russia launched a war against Ukraine . . . “

“Witnessing Her Decline,” a story in Xinmin Weekly about Ukraine that tells the story of Sun Guang (孙光), a 19 year-old Chinese student studying in the country.

We also noted another story in our study sample from Caixin Weekly (财新周刊), the business and current affairs magazine published by Caixin Global under the professional leadership of Hu Shuli (胡舒立). That story, “Russia and Ukraine Reorganize the World” (俄烏重組世界), was the March 7 cover story in Caixin Weekly. Like the Xinmin Weekly story, it began with a reference to the “war” in Ukraine that did not pull punches: “In the midst of this war in the spring of 2022, the Crimean Peninsula, the site the last major conflict over sovereignty between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, has become a key departure point for the Russian military’s offensive push deep into Ukraine.”

Today we focus on another Caixin Weekly piece that again speaks to the outlets professional ambition to contribute meaningful reporting on a crucial global story. Published in the latest edition of the magazine, the story is called “Born in the Midst of War” (战火中的新生儿), by reporter Xu Heqian (徐和谦). “Since the start of the war, more than 4,300 children have been born in Ukraine, and maternity hospitals have not been spared from the shelling, with many maternity wards forced to relocate to basements and bomb shelters,” the story begins.

Screenshot of the Caixin Weekly story “Born in the Midst of War” (战火中的新生儿), by reporter Xu Heqian (徐和谦).

Against the political frames and abstractions that drive the majority of stories at Party-state media outlets, such as Xinhua and the Global Times, the Caixin Weekly story is human and relatable.

A section of the story follows in translation:

Regardless of the current state of the war and the rhetoric of both sides, a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent in Ukraine, and this is typified by attacks on hospitals. The sight of a pregnant woman on a stretcher through the rubble and debris sparked widespread concern in world opinion. The woman was brought in with a crushed pelvis and a dislocated hip, and her baby was delivered by C-section with “no signs of life,” according to Marin, the doctor at the second hospital where she was treated, and the woman did not survive after more than half an hour of emergency resuscitation.

Fortunately, two other women who escaped from the same attack gave birth to their newborns after being transferred to a neighboring hospital. Video footage from the area confirms that even as the hospital was delivering babies and performing life-saving surgeries, there were still frightening sounds of shelling from the surrounding area.

The Russian military later admitted, under public pressure, that it did fire on the maternity hospital in Mariupol, but said it did so because the hospital had been converted into a “fire position” by Ukrainian forces after the outbreak of the war, and there was no medical activity in the hospital at the time of the attack. The Russian ambassador to the UN and the embassy in London also accused the media of “faking” the photos circulated of the injury and evacuation of one of the pregnant women, based on the fact that one of the evacuated women was identified as Mariana, a well-known Ukrainian fashion blogger on the Internet. While this identity was true, the accusation that she “played” the victim in the incident was quickly disproven by multiple sources, and Mariana did give birth to a baby girl the day after the attack.

Screenshot of the Caixin Weekly story “Born in the Midst of War” (战火中的新生儿).

The social media platform Twitter deleted a tweet in which the Russian Embassy in the UK retweeted the above justification; the British government also criticized the Russian Embassy’s claim as “fake news”.

The “shelling of a maternity hospital” behind this public outcry is just a typical example of the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Since the start of the fighting on February 24, the World Health Organization’s Health Care Attack Monitoring System has recorded 31 attacks on Ukrainian health care facilities or carriers, including 24 that have resulted in the damage or destruction of health care facilities and five that have damaged or destroyed ambulances, resulting in a total of at least 12 deaths and 34 injuries.

Doubling Down on US Bioweapons

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden will speak this evening in what the White House has called “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC.” Biden is expected to send a clear message to Xi that China would face serious consequences should it choose to provide material support for Russia in its war on Ukraine.

The planned call is front-page news in today’s People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper. But the missive gives little away of China’s position or intentions, saying only that “the two sides will exchange opinions on questions of mutual concern.”

China’s announcement of the Xi-Biden call is placed just right of the masthead in today’s People’s Daily.

But while the US has continued its focus this week on exerting pressure on Putin and isolating him internationally, China has insistently sought to shift the focus to the question of US biological weapons labs in Ukraine – an allegation that has basis only in claims made by the Russian Defense Ministry on March 6. The result is a disconcerting rift in priorities that mirrors tensions in the US-China relationship. The US wants to talk about Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and China’s role in either improving or worsening the conflict. China wants to talk about US actions in Ukraine, and to parlay these into a broader international discussion about the corrosive role of the United States.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) again treated the Russia claims as credible, stressing that the United States has an obligation to comply with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The US, said Zhao, must “offer clarifications on issues that the international community cares about.”

Two official commentaries in the People’s Daily this week have hammered hard on claims about US biological weapons programs in Ukraine. Both commentaries are labelled as “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view. (On Tuesday, CMP profiled a third “Zhong Sheng” piece that attacked the US as a source of disinformation.)

On Wednesday, the “Zhong Sheng” commentary, anticipating Zhao’s remarks, said that the US should “act responsibly and make a full clarification of its global bioweapons activities” in order to “raise the level of global biosecurity” (生物安全). The article’s first line read: “Recently, Russia has exposed the US bioweapons cooperation program in Ukraine, further unveiling the U.S. ‘bioweapons empire.’”

A “Zhong Sheng” commentary on page 15 of the People’s Daily again addresses alleged US bioweapons programs in Ukraine.

Today, ahead of the Xi-Biden talk, “Zhong Sheng” follows with a commentary accusing the US of double standards. The piece suggests in its lede that discussions of US “bioweapons activities” (生物军事活动) in Ukraine have “heated up.” Obviously, there is no mention of the fact that China has played a decisive role in ensuring that these rumors run red hot.

A partial translation of today’s “Zhong Sheng” commentary follows.

Sticking to “Double Standards” Will Only Bankrupt US Credibility
(Zhong Sheng)
People’s Daily
March 18, 2022, p. 15

Recently, discussions about United States bioweapons activities in Ukraine have heated up. Russia has released a series of original documents accusing the US of violating the Biological Weapons Convention. The US first denied [these accusations] and then tried to bite back, a but this response has only further heightened international suspicions about US bioweapons activities.

The US first dismissed the Russian allegations as “disinformation” and “conspiracy theories” and then alleged that “the Russians intend to use biological and chemical weapons against Ukraine.” Finding the situation impossible to muddle through, a group of officials from the White House, the State Department and the Department of Defense took turns in “saving the day” by claiming that the US “has a history of openness and transparency” and “fully complies with the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.” The US also released so-called “factual documents” in an attempt to “clarify” its bioweapons activities in Ukraine and around the world. However, the US clarification is full of holes, and even the most basic information about the number of its cooperative laboratories in Ukraine is inconsistent and unconvincing.

. . . . . .

As a member of the international community, the United States has an obligation to abide by international rules and give the world an account of its bioweapons activities. Holding on to double standards will only bankrupt its own credibility.

China Rails Against US “Disinformation”

Meeting in Rome yesterday, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪), and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had a “substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” according to a readout posted by the White House. One key focus of the talks was the possibility of China providing military or other support for Russia, after the US leaked intelligence suggesting that Russia had approached China for its assistance. China has denied that it received such a request, dismissing the news as “disinformation” spread by the US.

In the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper today there is not a whiff of news about Sullivan or yesterday’s exchange in Rome. But the “disinformation” angle plays strongly in the paper, trumpeted in a page 17 column that heaps the blame for “the Ukraine crisis” (乌克兰危机) – also downplayed as “the Ukraine issue” (乌克兰问题) – on the United States.

The piece is written by “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view. It accuses US media and “certain US politicians” of “[using] the Ukraine issue to fabricate and spread false information in a way that recalls the dishonorable history of the US side and the way it has used rumors to wage wars.” Soon after this statement comes reference, for example, to the infamous vial of white powder held up on February 5, 2003, by then US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the dais of the United Nations Security Council, offered as proof that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The basic point of the “Zhong Sheng” column is that the US, and the US alone, has created the “Ukraine crisis,” and that it is now, rather than acting as a responsible power, attempting to cloak its guilt in a veil of disinformation. By contrast, “China’s approach is responsible and truly reflects the role of a great power.”

Taken as a reflection of thinking at the top of the CCP, the “Zhong Sheng” piece would suggest an extreme rift in views on the disaster in Ukraine, which most of the world has seen plainly as stemming from Russian aggression and the personal ambitions of Vladimir Putin.

Further, the column suggests that the US has worsened the situation by wielding the “stick of sanctions” (制裁大棒). One point of bewildering obtuseness comes as it outlines its case against sanctions as a tool of US “coercion,” noting their impact on economies, and therefore people’s lives: “Sanctions are never an effective way to solve problems and will only bring serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned, further aggravating division and confrontation.”

The economy of Ukraine, and the livelihoods of its people, have so plainly been destroyed by incessant Russian bombardments, with nearly three million people now having fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations. In light of the devastation on the ground in Ukraine, the People’s Daily focus on sanctions seem to show an incredible level of tone deafness. But the point here may be that China’s leaders see themselves as having a vested interest in perpetuating the anti-American narrative, the same interest that has kept Chinese media pumping out Russian propaganda.

A full translation of today’s “Zhong Sheng” column follows:

Disseminating false information cannot cover up the responsibility of the US side
People’s Daily
March 15, 2022, p. 17

The US side should reflect on its role in the Ukraine crisis, stop lying and deceiving and confusing the public, and should uphold its responsibility, taking practical steps to de-escalate the situation and solve the problem, doing something beneficial for peace.

Recently, certain US politicians and media have repeatedly fabricated and disseminated false information, using the Ukraine issue to smear China. In the face of the facts, this practice of creating rumors to shirk one’s responsibility is despicable and ineffective. Not only does it fail to cover up the responsibility of the US side in the Ukraine crisis, but it further exposes the sinister intention of the US side in trying to ensure that all under heaven is in chaos.

To see the situation in Ukraine develop to this point is not something China has wanted to see. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has always made its judgments and claims independently and impartially on the basis of the merits of the matter itself. The Ukrainian issue has its own complex historical background, and its resolution requires calmness and rationality. China believes that in order to resolve the current crisis, we must adhere to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, respecting and guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; we must adhere to the principle of indivisible security and accommodate the legitimate security concerns of the parties; we must adhere to dialogue and negotiation to resolve disputes by peaceful means; and we must focus on the long-term stability of the region and build a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism. China’s position is open and honest, and its ideas are positive and constructive.

To promote the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, it is imperative to urge peace and promote talks, rather than pouring oil on the fire. China has always stood on the side of peace and cooperation, justice and righteousness, and supports any efforts to help de-escalate the situation and reach a political solution, while opposing any actions that are not conducive to promoting a diplomatic solution and lead to an escalation of the situation. China has been in close communication with all parties and has worked to persuade and encourage talks. It is willing to continue to play a constructive role in promoting talks, and to work with the international community to carry out the necessary mediation whenever necessary. China’s approach is responsible and truly reflects the role of a great power. For individual countries to create crises and to pass on crises, and even to derive profit from them, is detrimental to others and to themselves.

China is not in favor of using sanctions to solve the Ukrainian problem, and is even more opposed to unilateral sanctions that have no basis in international law. Sanctions are never an effective way to solve problems and will only bring serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned, further aggravating division and confrontation. Sanctions not only create a “lose-lose” or “multi-lose” economic situation, but also interfere with the process of political settlement. According to data released by the US Treasury Department, the number of sanctions imposed by the US has increased tenfold in the past 20 years. The number of sanctions imposed during the last US presidency reached 3,800, which is equivalent to waving the “sanctions stick” on average three times a day. The unilateral sanctions imposed by the US have caused much chaos in the world, resulting in continuous and systematic violations of human rights. The US side must stop imposing sanctions indiscriminately and give up the delusion of coercing other countries to do what they oppose.

Certain US politicians and media have used the Ukraine issue to fabricate and spread false information in a way that recalls the dishonorable history of the US side and the way it has used rumors to wage wars. In less than 250 years of its existence, there has been no 20-year period in which the US has not launched a military operation, and some of the many rationalizations used to carry out these military interventions were even fabricated disinformation. The United States used a vial of white powder as evidence of so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to launch military strikes against Iraq, causing a serious calamity for the Iraqi people; in Syria, the United States has used the “White Helmets” organization funded by Western intelligence services to pose for video as “evidence” to justify air strikes. . . . . The lessons are near, and the US side should reflect deeply rather than continue repeating the same mistakes.

Former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union George Kennan advised the US government in the 1990s that NATO’s continued expansion against Russia would be the most fatal mistake in US policy. As the originator of the Ukraine crisis, the US side should reflect on its role in the Ukraine crisis, stop lying and deceiving and confusing the public, and should uphold its responsibility, taking practical steps to de-escalate the situation and solve the problem, doing something beneficial for peace.

An Anthem for the New Era

As cities in Ukraine are reduced to scenes of devastation, and as Russian forces step up their deadly assaults in the country’s west, one might think the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games on Sunday would have little hope of making today’s headlines. But the Games are the major story, and the only story, on the front page of the People’s Daily newspaper today.

This is the day’s top news on a day when US national security adviser Jake Sullivan is in Rome for talks with China’s top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪), that could have a dramatic impact on the course of events in Europe, and for the world. This is the news as there are reports that Russia has asked China for military equipment to support its war against Ukraine, a request that is sure to be discussed at the Rome meeting.

On the one hand, the People’s Daily page is a portrait of the acute myopia and chronic tone deafness that prevails at the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper. On the other hand, the page does convey important information. It serves as a reminder, at this key juncture for US-China relations and the war in Ukraine, that the top-most priority for China’s leadership this year is the 20th National Congress, which is expected to seal Xi Jinping’s dominance as leader of the Party.

To a great extent, China’s internal power politics, and how Xi Jinping chooses to understand and define his own leadership prospects, will define the prospects for broader peace.

In the main article on the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Winter Games, Xi Jinping and the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, all in attendance, are primary. They are announced in the first paragraph, right at the start of a listing out of the glorious successes of the host country, of China’s 18 gold medals, of the music and fireworks of the ceremony itself. And they round out the article too:

Fireworks with the words “Beijing 2022” bloomed over the stadium amidst the heavenly singing of the children of the blind children’s choir.

Members of the Politburo of the CCP Central Committee, the First Secretary of the Central Secretariat, the Vice-Secretary of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. . . .  and members of the Central Military Commission attended the closing ceremony.

There is no talk whatsoever of the challenges facing the world, of the need for peace, or even of the “Olympic spirit.” There is mention of the address given by International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, who reportedly called the Games “amazing, safe and reliable, wonderful and extraordinary.” But there is no mention of the faint hint in Parsons’ address of the troubles facing the world: “During the darkest of times,” he told the athletes, “your performances shone brightly.”

A separate article right next to the masthead reported a congratulatory note sent by China’s State Council to China’s Paralympic athletes. It said that the athletes had “fully demonstrated the results of China’s human rights protection and national development.” But the article concluded, predictably, with a focus on the glories of the CCP under Xi Jinping, and mention of Xi’s “banner term,” or qizhiyu (旗帜语), marking his legacy:

At present, under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, the whole Party and the people of all nationalities are moving forward with vigor toward the second centennial goal. We hope that you will all, with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era as your guide, carry forward the glorious tradition of sports for people with disabilities . . . .

Even on such a day of reckoning for peace in our world, power signaling about Xi Jinping’s status is the primary and core concern of the CCP. The front-page news in the People’s Daily gives us an image of Xi standing, an image of Xi waving – but nothing whatsoever to indicate what, behind his red mask, Xi Jinping might be thinking or planning.

“We meet on the path of peace”

If there was any reference to the world in the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, it seems to have been the anthem that boomed out as “the national stadium at night was glittering” and Xi Jinping walked to the podium, along with his wife, Peng Liyuan (彭丽媛), and members of the Standing Committee.

The anthem, “Peace: Community of Destiny” (和平 – 命运共同体), was written by composer Guan Xia (关峡) and lyricist Zhu Hai (朱海) as part of a campaign by the Central Propaganda Department from 2014 to compose thematic national anthems on the “Chinese dream.” It was unveiled ahead of the 70th anniversary of the PRC in 2019, and it has appeared at a number of events having to do with China’s foreign relations. It was played, for example, on October 26, 2021, as China marked 50 years of membership in the United Nations, when the People’s Daily reported that “Xi Jinping stepped into the venue amidst the music of ‘Peace: Community of Destiny,’” and “the venue erupted in applause.”

Sheet music for “Peace: Community of Destiny” (和平 – 命运共同体), was written by composer Guan Xia (关峡) and lyricist Zhu Hai (朱海).

The title of the song is a reference to Xi Jinping’s foreign policy notion of a “community of common destiny for mankind” (人类命运共同体), the phrase that was written into China’s Constitution in a 2018 amendment (along with an amendment abolishing term limits for the presidency). The idea of a “community of common destiny” is associated with the CCP’s conviction that the international order must be re-made, promoting “more democratic international relations” — as the concept was conveyed through Xi’s joint statement with Putin just over a month ago.  

We should remember that the joint statement, signed just over two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, included Russia’s formal acknowledgement of “the significance of the concept of constructing a ‘community of common destiny for mankind’ proposed by the Chinese side to ensure greater solidarity of the international community and consolidation of efforts in responding to common challenges.”

And how are we now to understand this Russian acknowledgement, and the significance of Xi’s foreign policy concept, in light of Ukraine’s wanton destruction? In the days and weeks to come, “Peace: Community of Destiny” could become an anthem for many things. For peace? Perhaps. But possibly for saccharine falsehood, double-speak and inaction. Or even for the cynical rationalization of war.

The garland of life never fades
blooming in the path of peace.
The dignified light of righteousness shines like the moon and sun
illuminating the future.

We remember the sufferings of the past.
Peace is the only way.
All people yearn for a better world
together with love.

“Peace: Community of Destiny” is performed during commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the PRC in 2019.

We meet on the path of peace.
Love has never stilled its steps.

We move forward on the path of peace
and dreams touch down where the flowers bloom.

The beautiful Silk Road unfolds with the sunrise.
Warm blessings pass from hand in hand.
Heart and hand, our destiny is joined,
stopped by neither wind nor rain

Happy days are no longer distant
We share this journey of joy
Our future sparkles across the land
as together we build our homeland.

We meet on the path of peace.
Love has never stilled its steps.

We move forward on the path of peace
and dreams touch down where the flowers bloom.
We move forward on the path of peace

When War Isn’t War

Throughout most of the world, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is “Russia’s war.” But as international media have reported, China has refused to talk about an “invasion” or a “war” in the two weeks since Vladimir Putin launched his military attacks. In its first press conference on February 24, the day attacks began, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs set the tone by saying that China had noted Russia’s “special military operation in eastern Ukraine.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) seemed finally to break the pattern Thursday in a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in which he said that China supports “a ceasefire to stop the war.” Nevertheless, voices critical of Putin, or even calling for peace, continue to be systematically removed from Chinese social media platforms, and content critical of Ukraine and the West, particularly the United States, proliferates.

To examine China’s framing of “Russia’s war” more closely, the China Media Project studied a randomized sample of reports over the past seven days. From among 721 total reports returned in the Wisenews database including the term “Russia-Ukraine” (俄乌) in mainland China, we isolated a subset of these reports including the word “war” (战争), yielding a total of 114 articles (87 print and 27 online). Randomizing these results we focused on just 25 articles for analysis.

The “war” references in our set of Ukraine-related stories were not necessarily labels applied to the conflict in Ukraine, but they could sometimes offer interesting insights into when and how Chinese media use “war” in reference to the war, its causes, and its development.  

Operation, Conflict and War

Of the articles studied in our sample 12 were from the Global Times (环球时报), accounting for 48 percent of the total. It is clear that the Global Times is a dominant voice when it comes to the coverage of foreign affairs in China, and it has had an outsized presence in overall overage of the Russian-Ukraine war. The only other news sources to have multiple articles on our sample were the official China News Service (2), and China Agricultural Info Web (中国农业信息网), a comprehensive agricultural information platform that was launched in 1996 by the Information Center of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (2).

How was the war in Ukraine identified in the CMP sample? And how did articles in the sample use the word “war”?  

A sizable group (10 articles) referred to the war as the “Russia-Ukraine conflict” (俄乌冲突), while a slightly smaller number (7 articles) referred to the war as a “special military operation” (俄罗斯军事行动). Next came “Russia-Ukraine war” (俄乌战争) with a total of four articles, followed by “Russia-Ukraine military conflict” (俄乌军事冲突), “Russian military operation” (俄罗斯军事行动) and “this war” (这场战争) with one each.

One fact we can note immediately is that while the war has generally not been called a war over the past week in the Chinese media, with 80 percent of media referring to it as some form of “operation” or “conflict,” the “special conflict” language is by no means universal, and there is some slight variation, suggesting that there may be some grey areas when it comes to propaganda-related restrictions and how these are being applied.

“Special Military Operation”

Beginning with the label “special military operation,” it quickly becomes clear that this is label being used almost exclusively by central-level media and newswires. The 10 articles including the term come from five media sources, including the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily (深圳特区报), Guangxi Daily (广西日报), Shanghai Morning Post (新闻晨报), the Global Times and China News Service. But there are in fact just three sources for these syndicated stories: Xinhua News Agency, China News Service and the Global Times. The Shenzhen Special Zone Daily, Guangxi Daily, and the Shanghai Morning Post all run reports from Xinhua News Agency.

While two of the Global Times stories in our subset use the term “special military operation,” it’s worth noting that the newspaper actually varies in its use of labels, most often referring to the war as the “Russia-Ukraine conflict,” but also referring to it in two separate articles as the “Russia-Ukraine war.”

Here are several of the contexts in which “war” is mentioned in articles referring to the war as a “special military operation,” arranged chronologically:

Global Times
March 8, 2022
Headline: “U.S. mulls more extreme sanctions, Russia publishes ‘unfriendly list,’ Russia vows to accomplish operational goals in Ukraine” (美国酝酿更极端制裁 俄方公布”不友好名单”俄誓要完成在乌行动目标)

[Regarding sanctions on Russia] If this measure is put into action, it will inevitably further anger Russia and increase the risk of war spillover.

AFP said it would be the first event Lavrov has attended abroad since the war led to Russia’s isolation by the West.

Global Times
March 9, 2022
Headline: “Safeguarding national assets and making it harder for foreign companies to exit, Russia strikes back at Western economic sanctions” (维护本国资产安全 增加外企退出难度 俄出手回击西方经济制裁)

The secretary of the General Committee of the United Russia party, Andrei Turchak, said the party proposes to nationalize the factories of foreign companies that announced their withdrawal from the Russian market and stopped production in Russia during the special military operation against Ukraine. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant on [March] 8, he said that the West’s “sanctions war” against Russia, which includes not only the government but also private companies, is tantamount to “deliberate bankruptcy.”

China News Service
March 9, 2022
Headline: “Zelensky asks the West, “Where is the aid?” — will the situation in Ukraine change? (泽连斯基质问西方”援助在哪”,乌克兰局势将变?)

On [March] 8, after realizing that NATO is not ready to accept Ukraine, Zelensky said that he “has lost interest in this matter.” He believes that NATO is “afraid of confrontation with Russia.” Zelensky stressed again that he is ready to open a dialogue with the Russian side. “There should be an end to the war, and we should sit down and negotiate.” The Ukrainian side can seek a compromise with Russia on “how to live” with the people of the Crimea and Donbas regions, he noted.

Shanghai Morning Post
(Xinhua News Agency)
March 11, 2022
Headline: “Ukraine’s foreign minister: the parties failed to make progress on a ceasefire” (乌克兰外长:双方在停火问题上未能取得进展)

According to Xinhua, Ukrainian Foreign Minister [Dymtro] Kuleba said on October 10 that Ukraine and Russia have failed to make progress on the ceasefire issue and he is ready to continue negotiations with the Russian side to end the war.

In all four of these examples, it is clear that responsibility for “war” lies with Ukraine and with the West. In the case of both the China News Service report and the Xinhua report via the Shanghai Morning Post, the implication is that “war” is something for the Ukrainian side to stop by coming to the table – not something that has been waged against the country. In both of the Global Times reports, the only act of “war” is the “sanctions war” (制裁战争) that has been brought on Russia by the West, and which risks “war spillover.”

“Russia-Ukraine Conflict”

Here are several of the contexts in which “war” is mentioned in articles referring to the war as the “Russia-Ukraine conflict,” arranged chronologically:

Shanghai Morning Post
March 6, 2022
Headline: “Self-reliance and self-improvement in science and technology to win the initiative of development” (以科技自立自强赢得发展主动)

The sanctions and counter-sanctions between the U.S. and the West and Russia are a game at the level of war.

Global Times
March 9, 2022
Headline: “Russia says destruction of U.S. nuclear facilities was ‘self-directed’” (俄称乌核设施被毁是”自导自演”)

[IAEA Chief] Groce said, “We must act to help avoid a nuclear accident in Ukraine that could have serious consequences for public health and the environment. We can’t afford to wait.” He also said he was prepared to meet with officials from both countries at a location agreed to by Ukraine and Russia to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities in the event of an escalating war in the future, which would require ensuring the “physical integrity, communication channels and supply chain” of nuclear facilities.

Beijing Youth Daily
March 11, 2022
Headline: “Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers meet in Antalya, Turkey” (俄乌外长在土耳其安塔利亚举行会晤)

The meeting took place in the small town of Belek outside Antalya. After the meeting, the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers held separate press conferences on the meeting, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba saying that the Ukrainian and Russian sides had failed to make progress on the ceasefire and that he was ready to continue negotiations with the Russian side to end the war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia is ready to continue dialogue with Ukraine.

Beijing Daily
March 11, 2022
Headline: Paradox of sanctions against Russia highlights Europe’s strategic autonomy dilemma (对俄制裁悖论凸显欧洲战略自主困境)

Since the Crimean War in 2014, the EU has failed to make substantial progress in reducing its energy dependence: in 2020, total EU gas imports from Russia are 26% higher than in 2010.

As in the previous examples, these mentions of “war” in the context of the “Russia-Ukraine conflict” largely place responsibility with Ukraine and the West. It is Ukraine, in the Global Times story, that has (according to Russia sources) destroyed its own nuclear facility at Chernobyl, exposing all to “serious consequences.” It is the Ukrainian side that is mentioned in relation to “war” in the context of negotiations. And the only obvious “war,” as clear in the Shanghai Morning Post story, is that instigated by the US through its sanctions.

“Russia-Ukraine War”

Here are several of the contexts in which “war” is mentioned in articles referring to the war as the “Russia-Ukraine war,” arranged chronologically:

Xinmin Weekly
March 7, 2022
Headline: “Witnessing Her Decline” (眼見她的衰落)

[About Sun Guang, a student studying abroad in Ukraine]: That was also the most difficult time Sun Guang had experienced in Ukraine before this recent Russian-Ukrainian war broke out.

In the early hours of February 24, 2022, Russia launched a war against Ukraine, and artillery fire rang out in Kiev immediately afterwards. Sun Guang was the first to call his Chinese friends he knew from all over Ukraine, urging them to be safe and offering to help at any time.

China Agricultural Info Web
March 9, 2022
Headline: “Wheat is starting to cool down, what about corn?” (小麦开始降温,玉米呢)

As the Russian-Ukrainian conflict escalates, international food prices have soared. Since the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on February 24, international wheat and oil have risen several times, and corn is also climbing. On March 7, corn futures at the Chicago Board of Trade closed with mutual gains and losses, but trends were weak overall. With our country’s integration into the international community, the global butterfly effect impacting us [in China] is quite high. Xinhua News Agency commented that the Russia-Ukraine war has prompted a spike in energy and commodity prices, including wheat and other grains, further exacerbating inflationary pressures stemming from supply chain disruptions and the recovery from the covid epidemic. Affected by the war, Black Sea ports have suspended transport.

China Agricultural Info Web
March 9, 2022
Headline: “Foreign sugar continues to rally, Zheng sugar futures prices stabilize and rebound” (外糖继续反弹 郑糖期价企稳回升)

Friday night raw sugar futures prices continue to rise, coupled with the continued sharp rise in crude oil prices, and this is expected to boost the trend of Zheng sugar futures prices today. Last week, sugar futures prices rebounded weakly and positions dropped significantly. Last week the Russia-Ukraine war opened, resulting in the price of crude oil rose sharply, affecting the Brazilian sugar alcohol ratio, which in turn affected the supply of raw sugar in the international market, foreign sugar prices continued to move higher.

Global Times
March 10, 2022
Headline: “Russia plans to investigate US biological lab in Ukraine” (俄计划调查美在乌生物实验室)

The fate of U.S. biological laboratories in Ukraine has raised strong concerns since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. U.S. government data show that Washington has 26 biological laboratories and other related facilities in Kiev. Russian forces have found more than 30 biological laboratories in Ukraine that could produce biological weapons, according to the Russian newspaper Opinion. At a U.S. Senate hearing on the 8th, [Under Secretary of State Victoria] Nuland also claimed that if there is a biological or chemical weapons attack in Ukraine, then Russia must be behind it.

Global Times
March 10, 2022
Headline: “Famous Russian designer is ‘banned’” (俄知名设计师被”封杀”)

The New York Post reported on August 8 that Ralph Toledano, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the organizer of Paris Fashion Week, had confirmed to the media that [Russian designer] Valentin Yudashkin had been “banned,” saying that the organizer had tried to find out the designer’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war, but it was clear that he was on the Russian side. Toledano also said that Yudashkin’s ties to the Russian military were an important factor in the organizers’ decision to ban him from attending.

Among these five stories in our subset using the term “Russia-Ukraine war,” only the first Global Times story clearly follows the pattern of anti-American coverage, essentially passing along discredited Russian propaganda about the presence of US biological weapons facilities in Ukraine. The second Global Times story is plays it rather straight in sharing a report from the New York Post about the exclusion of Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin from Paris Fashion Week. The Global Times, in fact, has been rather inconsistent in its labelling of the war, though reports blaming the West have predominated at the outlet. In several stories today (here and here), the outlet persists in calling the war a “special military operation.”

China Agricultural Info Web is an interesting exception in coverage of the war. It has no explicit agenda, other than informing its target audience about corn futures and sugar prices, and the “Russia-Ukraine war,” which is has no problem calling a war, is simply important background.

But the first story in the “Russia-Ukraine war” list above is worth singling out because it is a reminder, however faint, that professional reporting, and more creative thinking about stories, still persists in China even under the thick cloud cover of domestic media control and the opportunistic pushing of pro-Russian and anti-West propaganda. Based in Shanghai, Xinmin Weekly is published by Shanghai United Media Group (SUMG), which also publishes Jiefang Daily, the Shanghai committee of the CCP. Xinmin Weekly is part of what could now be considered the old guard of professional journalism emerging in China from the 1990s under an environment of commercial experimentation in the media.

In reporting on Ukraine, Xinmin Weekly takes the interesting approach of writing a feature story centered on Sun Guang (孙光), a 19 year-old Chinese student in Ukraine whose life is upended by the war. The story opens unflinchingly: “In the early hours of February 24, 2022, Russia launched a war against Ukraine . . . “

“Witnessing Her Decline,” a story in Xinmin Weekly about Ukraine that tells the story of Sun Guang (孙光), a 19 year-old Chinese student studying in the country.

Another interesting outlier in our subset is story #21, which happened to come from Caixin Weekly (财新周刊), the business and current affairs magazine published by Caixin Global under the professional leadership of Hu Shuli (胡舒立). This is the story in our group referring to the war in Ukraine simply as “this war” (这场战争), and it is – as one would generally expect from Caixin – in a class of its own.

Called “Russia and Ukraine Reorganize the World” (俄烏重組世界), the cover story appeared on March 7, in the last edition of the magazine. Like the Xinmin Weekly story, it begins with a reference to the “war” in Ukraine that does not pull punches:

In the midst of this war in the spring of 2022, the Crimean Peninsula, the site the last major conflict over sovereignty between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, has become a key departure point for the Russian military’s offensive push deep into Ukraine.

Not only does the Caixin Weekly story begin with acknowledgement that the current conflict is a “war” and not a “special military operation,” but it also provides a clear and active sense of Russia as the primary agent, its “offensive” pushing deep into Ukraine.

Though just two cases in a torrent of US-blaming, West-shaming Chinese content on Ukraine, the Caixin Weekly and Xinmin Weekly stories are a reminder that central-level newswires, the Global Times and the foreign ministry are not a complete reflection of Chinese views. Nor are they fully reflective of Chinese reporting. Despite the immense changes under Xi Jinping, and despite the preponderance of “pro-Moscow posturing” on Chinese social media, professionalism in the Chinese journalism and information space can still be quietly insistent.

University Press Creates Political Review Team

In open and democratic societies, the university press serves a special role in publishing academic work that has been reviewed by the scholarly community. Through books, journals and reference materials, university presses often help to ensure that research insights, including those that might be overlooked or underappreciated, are made accessible in order to broaden conversations within and across disciplines.

In China, this role is complicated and interrupted by the demands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is keen to see works reviewed prior to publication not just for their intellectual value but also for their political fitness. As sensitivities in China intensify ahead of the 20th National Congress of the CCP this fall, one university press has announced that it is going the extra mile to ensure its political i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

On February 23, China Renmin University Press, an academic publishing house affiliated with Beijing’s Renmin University of China (RUC), which is known for its relative strength in the humanities and social sciences, announced that it was forming a Political Content Review Committee (政治内容审读委员会). The committee, which held its first training session after the formal inauguration of the group, will be tasked with reviewing the roughly 3,600 titles the press releases each year to ensure that they abide by what the CCP calls “political guidance” (政治导向), or “guidance of public opinion” (舆论导向) – essentially, the enforcement of control over facts and ideas to support the political stability of the regime.

Members of the Political Content Review Committee at China Renmin University Press attend their first training session on February 23, 2022.

In a speech to mark the formal launch of the committee, the head of the press, Li Yongqiang (李永强), said its purpose was to maintain a grasp of “political guidance” as well as product quality in the midst of the current climate in which “ideological work is steadily increasing.” Members of the Political Content Review Committee, said Li, would need to “have boundaries under their pens” (笔下有边界) – meaning that they would need to apply political standards consistently as they reviewed works to be published.

Li added that they must be “adept at discovering [political] problems” (善于发现问题) as well as resolving them, “clearly distinguishing the good and the bad in the sea of information” (海量的信息中明辨是非优劣).