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Whatever You Do, Don’t Read China’s Global Times …


I’m not crazy about Global Times (the house organ of Chinese hypernationalism) but I like the sniggering condescension of Foreign Policy magazine (the house organ of neo-lioberalism) even less.

Actually, Christine Larson’s recent profile of Global Times in Foreign Policy is reasonably even-handed.

FP’s editors, however, couldn’t resist juicing the story—and signaling to its readership that GT and its views are not be taken seriously–by titling the piece “China’s Fox News” and adding a sidebar, “The Top 10 Screeds in China’s Global Times,” with takedowns by Uri Friedman.


Money Quote: ” Living in an international environment that China temporarily cannot change, we need to be alert to foreign interference as well as keep a sober mind, clean house and constantly improve governance … No country is fond of interference from the outside. China is no exception. In addition to hostile forces originating in foreign countries, China also has to face the mixed chorus formed by Tibet separatists, East Turkistan terrorists and the Falun Gong cult, who have gone abroad. Inner calm is specially needed when dealing with the collusions of the above-mentioned forces.”

Context: The editorial, which reflects on China’s rise in a globalized world, sounds a lot like the paranoia about foreign interference expressed by dictators during the Arab Spring. The appeal at the end to “inner calm” may sound tranquil, but one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a euphemism for a crackdown

In case you don’t see the out-of-control dingbattery you’re supposed to detect in these excerpts, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m on Global Times’ side of the fence on about half of the pieces, which concern America’s cynical stirring of the South China Sea pot.

Pop Quiz:

Which nation is more likely to pose a long-term threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?

China, which imports most of its oil through the region?

Or the United States, which routinely uses unilateral and multilateral sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, keeps a carrier strike force on tap in the west Pacific, has something of an obsession with bottling up the Chinese strategic nuclear submarine fleet stationed in Hainan, and adores the idea of building an anti-China bloc around the South China Sea conflict?

If you answered China, well, that puts you squarely in  Foreign Policy’s preferred demographic: people for whom the US system of liberal democracy and free market capitalism a priori put it in the right in any disagreement with China.

Nevertheless, the US model, which has recently displayed a pretty strong bias toward military coercion and financial dysfunction, has its own flaws.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, I think, generated a certain amount of cognitive dissonance among Chinese democracy advocates.

The Chinese government can, of course, be mocked for its anxious banning of the word “Occupy” from search engines and microblogs.  Crowds of disgruntled, idealistic people showing up in high-profile downtown venues is the ultimate nightmare for the CCP.

At the same time, the OWS movement is a statement that US democracy in the age of Citizens United, runaway corporatism, and abjectly craven politicians is simply not delivering the goods for many Americans.

Hurrah!  Americans can impotently demonstrate against the fact that their system isn’t working!

Global Times has a pretty tough row to hoe, of course.  Authoritarianism and state capitalism are not popular among the Chinese or foreign intelligentsia.

But their writers are trying to make some sense out of the world beyond regurgitating government propaganda.

I was struck by a statement in a Global Times editorial on the OWS movement that I found charming in its awkward truthfulness:

“Western countries can withstand street demonstrations better, since their governments are elected.”

The editorial, presumably written by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (according to Larson he keeps an iron grip on the editorial page) continues:

“People think the street demonstrations will not lead to the overthrow of the Western political system. They are merely valves that can help ease pressure built up in democratic societies while the pressure and dissatisfaction on the streets could end up helping the opposition party seize office.

“The conflicts may be minor or serious, but it will not bring significant change.

“This is a fair argument, but it also reveals one of the core reasons why the western world lacks determination for real change. Political parties have been taking advantage of dissatisfaction in their societies, manipulating them to serve their own short-term political interests, rather than eliminating the causes.”

It’s a worthwhile observation that democracy provides a measure of political stability but may also  serve as an obstacle to political and economic solutions by empowering forces that want to block a solution.

That’s something that Global Times, which is trying to make the case for the advantages of China’s authoritarian system, is eager to point out; it’s also something that liberal periodicals like Foreign Policy are constitutionally unable to confront.

Like I said, if you read Global Times you might learn something.

I have to admit what really set me off about the article was this passage, which also provided an interesting perspective on where Hu Xijin is coming from:

“In 1989, Hu joined the People’s Daily as a reporter; from 1993-1996 he was a correspondent in Yugoslavia covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned to Beijing in 1996, and at age 36 joined the new Global Times newspaper as deputy editor.

“‘Global Times has been increasingly relevant since 1999,’says Anti, ‘since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia.” — i.e., the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by U.S. and NATO forces, which stirred conspiracy theories in China and happened to take place in Hu’s old reporting stomping grounds.”

That “i.e. the accidental bombing” is, to me, redolent of smug ignorance.  How dare China accuse us of bombing their embassy!

There is plenty of evidence—including an investigative report by England’s The Observer, presumably amply endowed with North Atlantic neoliberal cred in the eyes of FP—that the bombing was intentional and, indeed, was a watershed in elite Chinese attitudes toward the United States.

Because of Foreign Policy’s transgressions, I must perforce repost one of my articles on the Belgrade bombing, with a few minor edits:

Friday, January 26, 2007 

Why China Hates Satellite Guided Munitions, Part 1: The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999

China’s first direct experience with satellite-guided munitions occurred on the night of May 7, 1999, when at least five GPS-guided JDAM bombs slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese nationals and wounding 20.

Now is a good time to recap the Belgrade bombing incident and contribute some new information contained in the memoirs of the Chinese ambassador to Yugoslavia during the bombing, Pan Zhanlin.

The JDAM used in the attack is a very successful and relatively inexpensive concept in ordnance by which dumb bombs are, as it were, sent to college, and equipped with a GPS-corrected guidance system that generates corrective adjustments to movable vanes after the bomb is dropped from a plane, enabling reported accuracies of within 13 meters.

The conventional, though implausible, narrative at the time of the embassy bombing was The Bomb was Smart… But We Goofed!

In testimony before Congress in July 1999, George Tenet explained how they meant to bomb some logistics office of the Yugoslavian army, they used an outdated map, somebody did catch the error but the message didn’t get through, the system broke down, sooooooo sorry.

On October 17, 1999, the Sunday Observer, in cooperation with a Danish paper, Politiken, came out with what would seem to be a blockbuster report: that the United States had deliberately targeted the embassy in order to remove a key rebroadcast station directing the military activities of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in their struggle to resist NATO forces.

I am embarrassed to admit that my Googling skills haven’t turned up a direct link to the article, but the Observer’s sister publication, the Guardian, ran a story summarizing the article’s conclusions.

As to why the Chinese government dared to take the provocative step of hosting a Yugoslavian military radio facility, the article speculates that Beijing cooperated with Belgrade in order to acquire data on U.S. military capabilities:

“Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists – the official Chinese version – but intelligence officers.

“The Chinese military attache, Ven Bo Koy, who was seriously wounded in the attack and is now in hospital in China, told Dusan Janjic, the respected president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, only hours before the attack, that the embassy was monitoring incoming cruise missiles in order to develop counter-measures.”

Interesting that, according to this report, the Chinese were geared up to monitor cruise missiles sailing over the horizon, and the U.S. surprised them all of a sudden by dropping a JDAM in their laps on a thirty second trajectory from straight overhead.

Wonder if the choice of ordnance was meant to achieve an objective—or to send a message?

According to the Observer, the behind the scenes U.S. attitude to the embassy bombing was: Mission Accomplished.

“British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced the “cock-up”. The US colonel was relaxed. “Bullshit,” he replied to the complaints. “That was great targeting … we put three JDAMs down into the (military] attache’s office and took out the exact room we wanted …”

This story died the death in the U.S. media (I only saw references to it in the English papers at the time) and, to its credit, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) took the matter up.

In an October 22, 1999 article, FAIR wrote:

“So far, the reaction in the mainstream U.S. media has been a deafening silence. To date, none of America’s three major network evening news programs has mentioned the Observer’s findings. Neither has the New York Times or USA Today, even though the story was covered by AP, Reuters and other major wires. The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news brief in its “World Briefing” (10/18/99), under the headline “NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing.”By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most prestigious paper, ran the full Reuters account prominently in its international section (10/18/99). So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Times (all 10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which collaborated with the Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran the story on its website.”

FAIR and its supporters rattled a few media cages, and got dismissive replies from the New York Times and USA Today.

The Times’ Andrew Rosenthal characterized the Observer article as “not terribly well sourced”.

PETER LEE is a businessman who has spent thirty years observing, analyzing, and writing about international affairs. Lee writes frequently for CounterPunch and can be reached at peterrlee-2000@yahoo.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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