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Weekly Column – By Ravi Dutt Bajpai

C3S weekly column W002/2015


Pushing own agenda: China’s official media and Paris Terror attacks

The whole world was shocked by the gruesome attack on the French magazine,Charlie Hebdoon 7th January 2015, which resulted in the massacre of 12 people. This incident was not a one-off attack as it led to several other terror strikes in France resulting in more fatalities. These terrorist strikes and cold-blooded killings drew worldwide condemnation and universal support for the protection of independent media and the freedom of expression. Even in the most immediate aftermath of these horrific incidents in France, different interest groups tried to exploit these attacks as an opportunity to propagate their own agenda. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Charlie Hebdo massacre with Hamas firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip. The Chinese official media adopted a puzzling stand on these attacks in France; on the one hand it denounced the attack on the media while on the other hand it censured the unfettered freedom of the Western media.

 The head of state of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping expressed grief on the loss of lives and extended his condolences to the bereaved families. President Xi Jinping unequivocally condemned the terror attack and termed terrorism a common enemy of all mankind and a common threat to the entire international community. However, the Chinese state controlled media outlet, TheGlobal Timesdecided touse this opportunity to attack the foreign policy of Western nations and the Western notion of press freedom. It is quite well known that the entire Chinese media is state-controlled and its contents are heavily censored; therefore it is imperative to conclude that the views and opinions of Chinese media reflect the attitudes of the ruling Communist Party. The editorial published in The Global Times, on 9th January 2015, while unconditionally condemning the terrorist attack chose to rake the suspected Western bias in dealing with terrorism on Chinese soil. The op-ed piece argued, “The West often shows a lack of firmness when responding to terrorist attacks that have happened in China. Even after China officially determines their terrorist nature, Western mainstream media puts quotation marks when describing these bloody assaults as “terrorist,” saying that it is a claim of the Chinese government”. China has long been miffed with the Western media coverage of its anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang and Tibet and strangely used this inopportune moment to air its grievances.

The Global Times editorial went onto criticize the hegemony of the Western media in shaping the world opinion and castigated the double standards of the West in dealing with terrorist attacks in different parts of the world. The newspaper elaborated its charge against the West by stating, “The world is always unified in its response to terrorist attacks that happened in the West, but when it’s the West’s turn to react to such attacks in countries like China and Russia, they often beat about the bush.” Clearly some of the powerful members in China’s ruling elite have decided to publicize their frustration on the perceived misuse of the West’s soft power in controlling the public discourse on the distinction between their own versus other’s terrorism.

The Global Times derided the obsession of Western leaders and its mainstream media with the notion of press freedom and contrasted this essentially core Western value with the core values of other societies. The editorial propounded ‘the clash of core values’ and claimed, “Press freedom lies as part of the West’s political and social systems and is a core value. But in these globalized times, when their acts contradict with the core values of other societies, the West should have the awareness to ease conflicts, instead of heightening them in accordance with its own values in a zero-sum manner.” Chinese establishment tried to use these disastrous incidents in France to justify their control of press freedom and somehow project their censorship as conducive to greater social and political cohesion. Clearly,China’s ruling elites were pushing their own agenda of rationalizing tighter media control and placing greater restrictions on the freedom of expression.

The Global Times editorial sermonized the West to be sensitive to other’s feelings, “if the West can be milder in expressing cultural clashes and consider the feelings of many others, it would be very rewarding and respectable.” The very next day on the 10thJanuary 2015, the Chinese media outlets reported the decision of the legislature of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region “banning the wearing of the burqa, an Islamic garment that covers women’s faces, in public places in the regional capital of Urumqi.” China’s assertion of Western in sensitivities towards others, leading to conflicts may be quite valid, however, China itself emulates the very same Western insensitivities in dealing with its own minorities. The news item in Xinhua, reporting the ban on burqa quoted, “Burqas are not traditional dress for Uygur women, and wearing them in public places is banned in countries such as Belgium and France.” Is the irony lost on anyone but China’s media controllers?

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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