Posts Tagged ‘global times’

Most of us China watchers have done it at some point. We see a bellicose, inflammatory or otherwise head-scratchingly strange editorial in the nationalistic Global Times newspaper, and we re-tweet it out of mockery or disbelief. Today we all had a good laugh when GT declared that the Scotland independence referendum is “a tremor shaking the whole Western system” and shows that “the tide of secessionism is rising in the West.” Sometimes we go even further than just sharing these stories. When GT called the U.S. a “mincing rascal” for its computer hacking claims against China, it was a gift for the many media outlets that were able to draw up entire articles about it. But we really need to stop, and here’s why:

Global Times gives incentives to troll
A few weeks ago on Twitter, a Global Times employee revealed that the company gives traffic-based bonuses and also “bonuses for mentions in foreign media, good or bad, and for comment volume, positive or negative.” This was later confirmed to me by other GT employees (Global Times itself responded to my email for comment, but never replied after I asked about its incentive schemes). By a long shot, the articles in Global Times that get re-shared and covered most frequently by foreign media are the ones that say the most absurd things.

It would appear this is something the paper has taken note of, as we seem to be seeing these editorials becoming crazier and more frequent. So in effect, whenever we share or write an article about one of these pieces, we’re playing right into Global Times’  hands. We’re encouraging trolls and taking opinions at face value that likely have financial incentives driving them.

Another thing people usually fail to account for is that the English editorials go through foreign editors. So when you see highly quotable and alliterative terms like “rampant rascality” or “prancing provocateurs” used, they may have come from a mischievous foreign editor rather than a Chinese ideologue. As a separate GT employee said, articles drawn up to flag these crazy statements are “essentially click bait feeding off click bait.”

The only way to kill a troll is to ignore it
These editorials routinely defame dissidents, report outright false information and rile up nationalism and racism. In most situations, it’s just not worth putting a megaphone in front of these messages.

Sometimes it’s inescapable, like when these editorials have real world effects. One particularly vitriolic editorial against Japan in September 2012 may have helped incite actual violence. In cases like that, media can’t help but quote GT.

However, most of these editorials are quoted or re-shared simply for their insanity.

I no longer bother flagging conspiracy mongering drivel from partisan talking heads in the US, even if only to debunk or mock them. I’ve come to realize that they only feed off that type of attention and make money from it. So I don’t know why I should treat pundits in China who do the same any differently. As media watcher Song Zhibiao put it, “The reason that the Global Times is difficult to defeat is not that it is truthful, but rather that it shows such contempt for the truth. The Global Times is hard to insult because it knows no shame. By tearing down the standards of what is right, it sets itself ‘free.’”

He added, “If we cannot stop it, we must then quarantine it. If we cannot quarantine the crowd, we can at least quarantine ourselves. That way, we will not become its carriers and unintended promulgators.”

Global Times does NOT represent the official Communist Party line.
Whenever the Communist Party is mum on an issue and journalists are scrambling to interpret Chinese leaders’ views on it, you’ll inevitably see “the state-owned newspaper Global Times” quoted…often from the English edition (which is pretty different from the Chinese). The implication is that it’s some sort of proxy for the official party line. But this isn’t really the case.

In some situations it is. When Global Times ran an editorial in January 2013 condemning the Southern Weekend stand and defending the government’s media censorship, newspapers across the country were ordered by propaganda authorities to reprint it. But this was a very rare event.

A Chinese media outlet being state-owned doesn’t mean every word it prints represents the party line. Global Times is owned by the Communist Party flagship People’s Daily, but that doesn’t mean they share the same editorial principles. One Tsinghua media professor I spoke with likened People’s Daily to a highly disciplined, but poor father and Global Times to his belligerent wealthy son. GT’s populist nationalism makes it one of the better selling newspapers in China, and thus, makes People’s Daily money.

I would liken GT more to what Glenn Beck is to the Republican Party, or what Michael Moore is to Democrats: It makes A LOT of money for itself, it’s mostly in agreement with the party platform and it’s fairly useful for the party among certain demographics, but it’s sensational, extreme, misleading and polarizing to the point that the party will usually keep it at arm’s length. From time to time, GT’s approach to the news is useful from the government standpoint, but for the most part, the bellicose editorials seem to be tolerated by the government rather than assigned by it. For instance, when Ai Weiwei was arrested in 2011, the official line was silence, and later that the arrest was simply for tax reasons. But GT basically acknowledged, and defended, that it was his politics that landed him in hot water. As one Global Times editor put it “Best to think of GT editorials as one end (usually) of the small range of permitted public opinions on a topic.”

I believe Global Times English does some good reporting in other sections (again, GT English is largely separate from GT Chinese). I have no qualms about linking to those stories (here, here, here, here, here, here and here for instance). But the editorials have rarely contributed any meaningful information or well-reasoned standpoints. On the contrary, they’ve routinely proven false and insidious. Unless these editorials have some influence on actual events, I see no reason to continue gifting them any extra attention.

Every newspaper makes mistakes. It’s an unfortunate fact of life in an industry that has to deliver a wide range of information every day. But that’s what corrections are for. Just acknowledge and rectify the mistake and readers will usually trust the paper even more for it. I’ve never seen such a correction in Global Times…until today.

Last month Global Times ran piece called Australians uncertain about China’s new power, which cited a 2008 incident where Chinese students protested Tibetan and human rights activists at the Canberra Olympic torch relay. It was printed under the name Rory Medcalf, program director of international security at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

But it turned out Medcalf had just been interviewed by Global Times and, unbeknownst to him, his ideas were patched together into an op-ed with his byline slapped on.  The phrase “[…] triggered by Tibetan separatists’ attempt to block the event” was also added, despite the fact that he never said it.

Medcalf wrote a post about the incident concluding, “The fact remains that someone on the newspaper’s staff thought it was perfectly acceptable to put words into my mouth to suit the Communist Party line. This is a real pity, since in principle it is a good thing for a Chinese newspaper to reach out to international audiences and to devote space for foreign commentators to communicate in their own words. The Global Times undermined this potentially positive initiative through some failures of basic journalistic standards.”

Today, the Global Times editor responsible for the incident, Gao Lei, made an unprecedented move and agreed. Global Times published an apologetic response where Gao explained that it was wrong to ever put Medcalf’s name on the byline to begin with. As for the “separatist” part, Gao explained that he had in fact been studying in Australia in 2008 and organized a counter-protest in Perth.

“My mind flashed back to the days when Western media gave what I saw as biased reports around Olympic torch relay and I tossed off the word ‘separatists’ with outrage,” said Gao. “I used the word unthinkingly, as it is the term commonly used by Chinese media source. It ended up in the article appearing as Medcalf’s words. Of course professionally I made an extremely serious mistake. Medcalf wrote a blog post to clarify his opinions and I am truly sorry for the distress my misrepresentation caused.”

For regular Global Times readers (or readers of most any Chinese media outlet) this honest acknowledgement of letting personal bias interfere with journalistic ethics is quite remarkable. This was an obvious contrast to Hu Xijin, the paper’s editor-in-chief.

In this excerpt from a 2010 piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut recalls an interview with Hu Xijin:

In our interview he didn’t seem to care whether his missiles were aimed at me personally or my profession, my country or the wider Western world. Australia was too insignificant to lecture China: ”You are driving a cart and we are driving a truck.” Ditto for Japan, given its entire stock of highways was no greater than China could build in a single year. And the New York Times was ”full of lies”.

On the subject of lies, I mentioned that his paper had egregiously misrepresented some of my own stories written in the Herald. He reassured me of his great personal commitment to truth and to pushing the boundaries of free speech. Earlier he had told me that Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace prize winner, deserved to be in prison for being ”a liar” who advocated ”Australian-style” democracy.

Again, contrast that to Gao Lei, a junior editor, who said about her mistake:

What I see from this unfortunate incident is the challenges Chinese media, and China as a whole, face in the expanding international engagement. Among issues where the West and China has profound disagreements, Tibetan situation is one of them. For both sides, a simple word can carry heavy political weight.

As a junior editor, I still have much to learn. Meanwhile, I remain optimistic that open dialogue and exchange of ideas will still help reduce long-held misperceptions.

Today Global Times ran an editorial called “Human rights award misses point of China’s social progress.” It was about Chinese lawyer Ni Yulan being given the Human Rights Defenders Tulip by the Dutch government for her role in fighting forced demolitions. Following standard GT editorial protocol, it opted to forgo any use of objective figures or examples to substantiate its claims. Instead it chose the basic approach of “fuck you Western media for calling attention to China’s problems rather than playing cheerleader to the overall progress it’s made.”

A few months ago I vowed not to rebut every dumb GT editorial that I came across. After all, I have to eat and sleep some time. So rather than rebutting, I’ve decided to help GT out with a little copy-editing. I’m in journalism school currently and one of the key principles we’re taught again and again is “show, don’t tell.” I know it’s been a long time since journalism school for Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin, who usually writes these editorials, so I’ve taken the liberty of re-writing it so that it has a chance of actually influencing some people toward GT’s viewpoint. It can even keep the same title and lead:

Human rights award misses point of China’s social progress 

Ni Yulan has been awarded the Human Rights Defenders Tulip 2011 by the Dutch government after her actions against forced demolition in Beijing, becoming the latest recipient of a foreign human rights prize. An unverified report said that Wednesday, Ni’s daughter Dong Xuan was not allowed to fly to the Netherlands to accept the award on behalf of her mother, who is still awaiting trial.

Ni has served a positive role in helping those who’ve been wrongfully, and often violently, dispossessed of their homes gain awareness of their rights and seek redress. She indeed deserves recognition for the hardships and debilitating physical harm she’s endured in her crusade to help the underclass.

However, coverage on cases like Ni Yulan tend to leave a somewhat unbalanced impression of forced evictions in China. In the focus on individual stories of suffering, it’s easy to miss the greater good that many demolitions are achieving.

There are essentially two types of land seizures now happening on a wide scale in China. The kind Ni has fought against are illegal and often the result of corrupt real estate deals. These unjustly throw commoners out of their homes with inadequate compensation and often feed a speculative bubble that threatens serious harm to the economy. The central government is indeed aware of this troubling trend and should continue to take proactive measures to mitigate it.

The second kind of demolition, however, gets less attention and is actually very good for China. Currently, roughly half of China’s population lives in rural areas. These areas usually consist of single-unit houses which use coal directly for cooking and heating. The houses also often have paper windows or other deficiencies that make them very energy inefficient. This contributes to high levels of both carbon emissions and local pollutants like sulfur.

Moving these people to the cities will put them in more efficient homes and on China’s electric grid, which is quickly cleaning up its energy production. Even when coal is the energy source, plants are becoming 25-50% more efficient and are retrofitting with devices that cut 95% of sulfur emissions.

Once these people are moved from their rural homes, the land is freed up for an even more pressing concern: food. China is about the same size as the US, but has 82% the arable farmland with 420% the population. To make matters worse, desertification is claiming this land at a rate comparable to the size of Rhode Island each year. It’s no wonder 150 million Chinese still don’t get enough to eat.

If we look at a developed country like the United States, a hundred years ago farmers made up 30% of its population. In 1945, on average, it took 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on two acres of land. By 1987, thanks to technological development, it took under 3 labor-hours and just over one acre of land to get the same result. Today, only about 2% of Americans are farmers and they produce much more food than the 30% did a hundred years ago.

China is going through the same process now with its current 35% farming population. Moving farmers from the countryside to cities moves them up the value chain and frees up land for more efficient mechanized farming. According to Geographical Society of China President Lu Dadao, China took only 22 years to increase its urban population from 17.9% to 39.1%. It took Britain 120 years and the US 80 years to accomplish this. So it can be said that China’s development is much more impressive.

It’s estimated that China’s urban population will surpass 70% by 2035, bringing it closer to developed status. It is regrettable that the power entrusted to local officials in order to reach this goal is sometimes abused. The recent resolution of the Wukan situation showed the government’s progress in dealing with these situations, but of course, there remains work to be done.

In this long march forward, it’s inevitable that many toes will get stepped on. Many will be uprooted amidst this progress. However, we shouldn’t let the setbacks completely overshadow the critical overarching goal. After all, keeping people fed is the most important human right of all.

See, I’ll bet you came a lot closer to sympathizing with GT’s main point here than in the original piece. It’s still bullshit, but I think you’ll agree it’s much less rank bullshit. 

I don’t want to get in the habit of rebutting every idiotic Global Times editorial that’s printed. That would be a full-time job comprising an entire blog. But recently they’ve somehow sunk below the bar that was already on the ground. There was of course the call for war, but there’s more. This time they’ve managed to piss all over something that should be good news to everyone but racists.

In response to the US senate apologizing for historical discrimination against Chinese with policies like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Global Times yesterday ran an editorial titled Senate apology masks sense of superiority. It makes some token concessions about the positive nature of the bill, but the title pretty well sums up the intended takeaway.

Global Times running inflammatory editorials over things like Liu Xiaobo’s peace prize or any criticism of China, no matter how well-founded, is understandable. It’s what they do. But spinning such a conciliatory and positive gesture like this into yet another Western “wolf in sheep’s clothing” narrative is a new low. Now why would Japan ever give China the parliamentary apology it wants for World War II atrocities? The Chinese media has just demonstrated it’ll likely spit on it and use it for stirring up even more nationalism.

A few weeks ago Global Times ran another piece called Locke’s lifestyle and new mission which admonished the Chinese admiration of US Ambassador Gary Locke for buying his own coffee and flying economy class. They’re not letting the US (and ergo that one country called “The West”) get away with anything positive. It all must be spun in a way to keep everyone suspicious of the West’s constant all-encompassing anti-China agenda.

Global Times isn’t a (direct) spokesman for the government, but these editorials can give a pretty good clue of what the government wants people to think, and I would expect to see a lot more of this in the coming year. China faces a tough leadership transition in late 2012 and having unfavorable comparisons drawn to Western democracies is the last thing the CCP wants during this process- which in no way involves input from the people. And nationalism is the fail safe source of legitimacy that boosts the Party’s credentials in the short-term. It’s liberal use will give them strength through the transition.

So I predict these editorials are a preview of bigger things to come in the next year. The US (and “the West”) will do no right. The successes will be spun into failures and the failures into uber-failures that highlight the correct socialist path China has chosen. Yes, this already happens to a large degree, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The US election, which will happen right in the midst of China’s power handover and inevitably feature very real China-bashing, will antagonize the whole situation. So I’d prepare to lower your expectations for both Global Times editorials and amicable Sino-US relations…if that’s even possible.

Today Global Times ran a piece called “Time to teach those around South China Sea a lesson.”  It basically says it would be a shame to waste an opportunity to wage some small scale battles in the South China Sea to teach mosquitoes like Vietnam and the Philippines a lesson. Tom Lasseter and Laowai Times have already written up pieces giving it the ridicule it deserves, so I’ll leave that part to them. As Laowai Times pointed out, “It’s hard to tell where stupidity ends and satire begins sometimes.” As satirical as it sounds though, the author of the article has what appears to be a real name and job, and the same piece ran in the Chinese edition of Global Times a few days ago. They’re not typically known for printing (intended) satire.

That people have this idea about war with Vietnam or the Philippines isn’t very surprising though. I’ve written before on how the South China Sea would be the perfect place for a little shock resuscitation of nationalism-based legitimacy if the party were ever backed into a corner. I’m sure there are plenty of hardliners in the government pondering the very suggestion the GT piece put forth.

But that this was printed in a national newspaper  in a country that constantly emphasizes “peaceful development”  …and then translated into the English version for the world to see is truly dumbfounding. I wrote a column for Global Times for a year-and-a-half (which I recently quit) and also did an internship this summer with the op-ed department. I always try to defend the paper  because a lot of wonderful people work there that write very intelligent, hard-hitting pieces. It’s just a shame that they have to come up with about a hundred of those pieces for every asinine editorial they run just to hold on to any kind of credibility.

Out of professional courtesy I won’t say anything about day-to-day operations there or the editorial process, but I’ll say that, in spite of all the incredibly dumb stuff they routinely print, this piece blew my mind. I really have no good guess as to how this made it in. Nothing that I’ve ever experienced gives me much of a clue; especially given that it’s not an editorial and the guy who wrote it is an analyst with some outside think tank who doesn’t even directly work for the paper. So if any readers out there are more discerning and analytical than I am in this case, please share.