Watching CCTV and reading between the lines.

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China. July, 2009

A couple of days ago on CCTV9, China’s English language TV station that is beamed to the West, there was a short story on China’s diplomats who had been ordered  by the government to return to Beijing for a conference. Something was up.

Watching CCTV and reading between the lines


No doubt, the bad press that china has been receiving around the world lately was one reason for their recall. As we know, China has not been on top of its game recently and the political fall-out from the arrest of Rio Tinto’s senior negotiator in China, Mr Stern Hu, has had unintended consequences for China’s commercial reputation in general, and for the Chinese government in particular. Namely: the galvanizing of world opinion against China’s crude intimidation today; and, international expressions of concern about China’s willingness to behave as a responsible world power in the future.

Despite appearances, this has been a serious miscalculation by the Beijing leadership group. Predictably, the response of the leadership to this unexpected reaction has been to flood the media with its own version of the truth; and to tell porkies about how foreigners want to carve-up China again…just like they did during the dying days of the Qing Dynasty (not a word about the corrupt mandarins of that regime who benefited financially from the sell-out of their own country to foreign powers)

Let me give you one example of this propaganda: hidden amongst the usual untruths is a whopper:“the state-secrets which Stern Hu has stolen could be used by the armed forces of foreign powers should they wish to invade China” (Chongqing Daily Newspaper). The more desperate the liar, the bigger the lie.

Anyway, nobody here seems to be taking the government and its propaganda too seriously: “It is just more of the same” seems to be the general attitude; “Who knows what the truth is” is a comment I regularly hear from the middle class; and “You westerners hate China” is usual thoughtful contribution from the 50 centers (Chinese student bloggers who are paid 50 yuan for every online comment that supports the Party line).

It is all so tiresome. I just wish that these guys would stop crying about the past and get on with it. Every country has its own sob-story of exploitation, injustice, and betrayal. It’s time to move on fellers.

Anyway, back to reading between the lines on CCTV. When I watched President Hu Jin Tau on CCTV9 as he was addressing the assembled diplomats I noticed something. He looked different. Closer inspection revealed a pasty, bloated face, and bloodshot eyes.

Now, everybody knows that anybody can look like this after a long night on the turps. However, this man is not known for abusing alcohol. His image is a carefully constructed apparition of self-control and grace under pressure. He really is china’s Mr cool.

Yet there he was, on CCTV, addressing China’s diplomats, and looking like he had just got out of bed. Why?

It didn’t click until the next day. Rowan Callick, ex Beijing correspondent and now Asia/Pacific editor for The Australian Newspaper, broke a story on Chinese corruption in Namibia, and how the judge in charge of the investigation, wanted to have a chat with the ex-director of the company involved: Hu Jin Tau’s 38 year old son, Hu Haifeng. Kharma.

This is a serious loss of face for President Hu Jin Tau and his colleagues, and we can expect that  their response to this public-relations disaster will be to direct the propaganda department to protect China’s princelings (favoured sons and daughters of China’s ruling class) and to block all news of this embarrassing revelation from reaching the eyes and ears of the general public. 

It gets worse: in today’s online news (22 July 2009), I read that after meeting with Chinese economists and company executives, China’s Premier Wen Jia Bao, had some worrying news for the assembled diplomats: “The difficult economic period has not passed; the foundation for economic recovery is not solid; the negative impacts of the global financial crisis on China’s economy are not abating; and outside demand for China’s goods exports is still shrinking.”

This news would drive anyone to drink or cause them to lose a night’s sleep. My take on all of this? Expected the unexpected in the coming days. China’s diplomats have a job ahead of them when they return to their host countries.





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