Human Rights: Throw them a Bone

I’m aware that many foreigners who work within China’s propaganda system in one or another way don’t wish China’s dissidents evil. But a recent blogpost on the Peking Duck (TPD) and many  reactions to it seems to depict the relationship between the Chinese and the foreign sides within Chinese propaganda in quite a remarkable way – fundamental misunderstandings included. The foreign side (by no means only TPD) appears to be quite mortified by recent developments.

TPD quotes from a Global Times commentary (English version, dated April 6), telling its readers that the experience of Ai Weiwei and other mavericks cannot be placed on the same scale as China’s human rights development and progress.

A disturbing and nauseating article, finds TPD. Besides, the Global Times’ staff appears to have been assigned to a big, collective fifty-cent-partisan job.

Richard Burger, that’s the TPD blogger, is described by James Fallows of  The Atlantic as

an American with long experience inside China — and working with Chinese authorities to more effectively “tell their story” to the outside world.

Back to the TPD blogpost itself, quoting from a discussion between Burger and an urbane, sophisticated, educated, talented and a truly wonderful person who happens to work for the Global Times:

“Why not throw the West a bone and let him go, declare an amnesty and then explain why he was detained in the first place.”

Foreign propaganda experts – James Fallows, too – appear to be stunned while watching how all the good “development aid” to China is evaporating  – and some of their reactions come across as if that loss hurts them more than the actual human rights violations the Global Times is trying to justify.

And their reactions seem to suggest that there would be more efficient ways than the Global Times’ current approach to do just that. Should I be curious? Should the Global Times be curious?

____________

Note

This post marks a break from my break from blogging, for the sake of  spontaneity.

____________

Related
China is no Puppet, it’s Complicated, April 8, 2011

____________

13 Responses to “Human Rights: Throw them a Bone”

  1. For the sake of clarity: WHY are the foreign propaganda experts are angry, in your opinion? Because the Chinese propaganda doesn’t follow their opinion?

    Nice new theme, comrade. Only the pictures are too big for the columns.

    Like

  2. Only the pictures are too big for the columns.

    Yes, and when clicking into particular posts, the pictures often become too small. Besides, the lines become too broad (inconvenient reads). But you can’t ask for everything on a free blogging platform.

    WHY are the foreign propaganda experts are angry

    In my view – and all the following is just my interpretation, of course -, the CCP is punching holes into the foreign experts’ (friendly?) narratives about China right now, and that angers some or many of them. The bottomline so far has been that China’s leadership values foreign opinions (at least when they are benign, as the CCP glossary puts it).

    A loss of justifying narratives is no mere foreign experience. There are more liberal Chinese officials (or stakeholders) who feel “let down” just as well, whenever a foreign move seems to make them look stupid vis-a-vis Chinese hardliners – be it arms sales to Taiwan, a White-House or Bundeskanzleramt reception for the Dalai Lama, military maneuvres east and west of Korea, etc.

    Neither Chinese nor foreign people would be that angry if they didn’t need (or wish for) some delusional ideas to justify their interaction with “the other side”, respectively. That will be the case in most fields of cooperation, but foreign propaganda experts, more than other foreigners, will probably depend on the argument that “China is changing for the better”, much more so than foreign business people or even politicians would. How else can they work “with Chinese authorities to more effectively tell their story” (unless they are themselves within the partyline)?
    CCP officials and foreign friends of the Chinese people are taking turns in losing face, and currently, it’s the foreign friends‘ turn.

    Take James Fallows’ headline “Arrogance? Or Insecurity?”. I’m not sure if he chose the headline himself, or if some editorial staff did, but it certainly looks detached or smug, and clueless to many Chinese readers – liberals and nationalists alike. Roughly speaking, liberals know, and fenqings (“angry youngsters”, nationalists) feel, what fear is. Either of them knows that the CCP’s rule isn’t simply depending on having lifted “400 million people out of poverty”, but also on scaring Chinese citizens away from all kinds of counterrevolutionary deeds. There may be insecurity among China’s leaders indeed, in the sense that the Chinese people may not really be as grateful as the CCP narrative (and that of its propagandists, Chinese and foreign) would have it, but Chinese readers from all walks of life (who can read English) may wonder how thick the skin of Mr Fallows’ face must be, so that he doesn’t even realize what’s happening to his face.

    Then take the GT journalist – what she puts forward in her discussion with Richard Burger is basically China’s “history of humiliation at foreign hands”. That the CCP, in round terms, gives a damn on what anyone outside China says may be a nice manipulative sweetener for Chinese nationalists, but the main motivation for Ai Weiwei’s, and many other dissidents’ arrest is that the CCP wants to chop off some heads to scare the usual suspects away from counter-revolutionary deeds. Maybe that’s too ugly a reality to become propaganda, and is therefore not even an issue in the American complaints in question.

    Besides, any fenqing may conclude from these arguments that Chinese individuals and their rights don’t really count in this Western debate, and that human rights advocacy were just phony. The foreign complaints in question here sound to me like “why do you have to do that dirty business so openly? Can’t you help us to save a bit of face? Should all our efforts have been in vain?”

    This attitude angers me, too. And I’m not even Chinese.
    My temporary conclusion would be that propagandists fall for their own propaganda sooner or later, and simply become disoriented. I can see no coherence in their current indignation.

    Like

  3. I’m not partiicularly taken with the latest PD thread at all, and am not wasting keyboard activity adding to the “dialogue”, when there are other equally interesting non-Sino topics to discuss ie for me, the brilliance of the Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi.

    As far as the idea of working for the GT, I’d sooner take a bath in recycled cooking oil.

    As for James Fallows, aside from his present disappointment, he seems more interested in developed cross blog mafia relationships to keep himself in the mix. I was most taken by the first article of his I read just before the Games 08 on how the GFW works, but no longer take him seriously.

    You don’t engage with scumbag regimes: you call them out on their weakest point, and in this case it is domestic economic mamagement and trade issues. Go to Slim’s #20 on PDs latest thread. Tres recommended.

    Like

  4. As for the trade issues – repressed RMB currency, indigenous innovation, subsidies, IPR theft and competition policy (Slim’s comment #20 on TPD), I think all of these strategies have played a role in other East Asian “economic miracles”, too, particularly South Korea and Taiwan. If they should feature that prominently in Chinese-foreign trade relations nowadays is a matter of negotiations, and if I want to call China out on one of these issues, it would be IPR theft, because education and propaganda within China help to legitimize and push such behavior.

    Trade with China doesn’t amount to trade with just another country. As I said before, there can’t be “free” trade, and politics must have the last word in how our countries shape trade relations with China – because China itself puts politics first in this respect.

    To be frank: I don’t understand people either who want to help the Chinese authorities to more effectively “tell their story” to the outside world – not in the least, unless they believe in the CCP’s ideologies. To try to talk these away and to suggest that they don’t mean what they say, or that “the Chinese people will change China’s ways anyway” is as starry-eyed as the justifications for uncritical engagement were thirty years ago. All of these illusions come at a cost for our economies, and at the cost of our own technological advancement. Chinese people or companies will successfully enforce their rights in our courts. What our companies or people will get in a Chinese court is quite a different story.

    This isn’t just about trade disputes – it’s politics.

    I don’t quite agree with you about Fallows and his link to the TPD post though. I think he took a genuine interest in either the discussion between Burger and the GT journalist, or in the collective fifty-cent operation there. I think the latter, if true, would be sort of news – even if nobody should expect something better from a CCP mouthpiece in the first place.

    Like

  5. Would it be fair to call you a fundamentalist, Justrecently?

    Like

  6. “foreign propaganda experts, more than other foreigners, will probably depend on the argument that “China is changing for the better”, much more so than foreign business people or even politicians would. How else can they work “with Chinese authorities to more effectively tell their story” (unless they are themselves within the partyline)?
    CCP officials and foreign friends of the Chinese people are taking turns in losing face, and currently, it’s the foreign friends‘ turn. “

    Excellent analysis. I thoroughly intend to steal it and claim it as my own.

    “To be frank: I don’t understand people either who want to help the Chinese authorities to more effectively “tell their story” to the outside world – not in the least, unless they believe in the CCP’s ideologies. To try to talk these away and to suggest that they don’t mean what they say, or that “the Chinese people will change China’s ways anyway” is as starry-eyed as the justifications for uncritical engagement were thirty years ago. All of these illusions come at a cost for our economies, and at the cost of our own technological advancement. Chinese people or companies will successfully enforce their rights in our courts. What our companies or people will get in a Chinese court is quite a different story.”

    Similarly, I agree with you here, except for the last part. I don’t know how things are with trademarks or copyright, but I know that it is quite possible to enforce patents in China. Are your chances as good as that of a local rights holder? This I cannot say, but I know that it the courts do not discriminate against foreign rights holders to an overwhelming extent. The big problem comes where the government becomes involved.

    @KT – No blogger, writer or what have you is really a lone gun. Someone needs to read what you write, and for that reason, people do reference each other’s writing quite a bit, to propagate the writings of people they approve of, and to lend credibility to their own writings. Beyond that, there are people out there, and I am not just referring to CDE, who do not like to read that they are being criticised, and who are willing to use underhand means to attack those who write criticism. There are also people for who there are very good reasons to believe that they have criminal pasts. For these reasons it is wise to maintain back channels of communication with people who might be in a position to help. If this adds up to a blogging mafia, then so be it.

    The only caveat I would add is that this kind of blog mafia is fine so long as it does not cause people to overly avoid criticising those who help them, or to form a kind of echo-chamber for each other’s opinions.

    As a separate issue, I thoroughly approve of Richard Burger’s latest piece, particularly his exposure of goings-on within Global Times, which is exactly the kind of insider information which is the most valuable, and which is something which even the most cynical of people might not have predicted. I still do not understand his original decision to work for the Global Times, and I said at the time that I thought it was a bad idea.

    One thing I’ll admit though is that TPD gets trolled way too often and the debate on that site suffers for it.

    Like

  7. JR @ FOARP Thanks for the detailed, point by point responses.( I’m a recent entrant in the posting department, and feel like a lone gun most of the time. ) Cheers.

    Like

  8. nowede: I think to be a fundamentalist, I’d need to believe in a blueprint of a political or thought system that would make every individual happy, or virtuous. That’s not the case, and therefore, I wouldn’t think of myself as a fundamentalist. But it may depend on the definition of fundamentalism, and if you think I am, please specify, and we can discuss it.

    FOARP: I believe that IPR will remain a zero-sum game for the companies, even if not state-owned or state-connected (and how a company is connected isn’t always easy to tell, because those links aren’t always transparent). Bigger companies may take a stronger interest in IPR though, but that’s exactly those companies where you can take strong state/party connections for granted. I’m sorry, but a statement to the contrary by a recently retired Chinese IP lawyer is no great evidence, in my view. [update:I’m referring to Huang Yaoguang, not to you – to avoid misunderstandings!]
    China may be a good playing ground for big companies with big war chests for protracted legal procedures and uncertain power plays, but not for a foreign SME in general. That may explain to some extent why Germany still has so much to offer as an exporter. It is an SME-based economy, and genuine ownership, I believe, is the best prerequisite for responsible decisions – even without the money to live through long and very uncertain court cases. What is an overwhelming extent very much depends on size.
    I don’t understand Richard’s plan to work for the GT either – I have forgotten about that long since, because I don’t know him personally, but I do remember some scorn about it from the blogosphere now. But then, it seems, he hasn’t worked for the paper after all.
    As for the trolls on his blog, I think that a set of rules and a preparedness to kick them out without constantly writing justifications for that (except “see rules, and it’s MY blog”) would keep most of them away. But certainly, this will also keep commenting threads rather short. As I said before, I’d rather ask too much of potential commenters and scare them off, than having to waste my time on trolls. I believe that everyone who ever read this blog and had something to say has indeed only left these pages after saying it.
    Feel free to steal the above quotes from me – but by all means, put “friends of the Chinese people” between inverted commas, or I’ll call you out as an IPR manipulator within the commenting thread underneath!

    King Tubby: Are you feeling like a lone gun as a commenter, or as a blogger? If as a blogger, why not putting your blog’s url behind your ID when commenting elsewhere? I’m clicking on such links all the time.

    Like

  9. @JR – According to the Hong Kong edition of the Apple Daily, Richard worked for GT for six months, and was negotiating a return before the Ai Weiwei editorial changed his mind. I guess I should also say, that there are an awful lot of people the world over who will say that they think IP is just a zero-sum game designed to keep IP people employed, but I will avoid commenting on this . . . .

    Like

  10. JR. Re: your comment on FOARP’s site “Yang who”? I’ve been on a mission from god to discredit that windbag Yang Hengjun for months now. Not that people are taking any notice, but thats the joy of being a lone gun commenter. Chinageeks, China Media Project and any other site where he gets a mention. This is not a sign of monomania however.

    Like

  11. FOARP: OK, found it – it’s the link Roland Soong provided on the TPD thread, and your translation of it. (I think we are probably at a similar level, re Chinese language. Re 一言堂, baidu.com’s dictionary offers the English vocabulary – that online dictionary is almost as good as a real modern paper dictionary. It’s good that Soong pasted the pertaining paragraphs from the Apple article, too, because meantime, the article has become payware on Apple’s website, probably once the editors noticed how much interest the case has caught.

    King Tubby: Still Yang Hengjun? Ooookaaayy… 😉

    Like

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: