Chinese President Xi Jinping says China needs to improve the way it tells the world stories about itself and convince people that the ruling Communist Party is striving for the happiness of all Chinese people.
Xi’s comments to a Communist Party meeting earlier this month comes against the backdrop off Beijing’s growing isolation in the global community, fueled in this part of the world by its aggressive actions in the South China Sea, its clampdown on democracy and dissent in Hong Kong, its threats against Taiwan and its attempts last year to cover up the early spread of the coronavirus.
Xi said it was crucial that China develop a stronger “international voice” which matches its national strength and global status, to present a “true, three-dimensional, and comprehensive China” to the world, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
“We should strengthen the propaganda and interpretation of the Communist Party of China, and help foreign people realize that the Communist party of China [CCP] really strives for the happiness of the Chinese people,” the report cited Xi as saying. The official English translation by Xinhua, the UK’s Guardian newspaper notes, changes “propaganda” to “publicity.”
Worsening relations with the West, the Guardian adds, have resulted in tit-for-tat trade sanctions, the expulsion or intimidation of foreign journalists, and increasingly belligerent commentary from China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats, diplomats who use their platform to aggressively defend China’s policies and disparage opponents.
We have experienced these attacks from Chinese officials here in Manila, who had the temerity to denounce Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as “unprofessional” for calling out China’s intrusion into Philippine waters in April.
This week, the Chinese authorities again showed us that no amount of propaganda—or publicity if you will—can remove the stench of an authoritarian regime that brooks no dissent and disregards individual human rights.
Just weeks after Xi spoke of telling the world better stories, China hailed Hong Kong police for arresting the top editors of a pro-democracy newspaper and warned journalists not to write articles that challenge Beijing.
In the special administrative region, some 500 police officers descended on the headquarters of the popular Apple Daily newspaper and arrested three top editors and two senior executives for violating a national security law imposed last year that bans criticism of China. During the raid, police barred journalists from accessing their desks and declared the right to seize computers and other devices at the newspaper owned by pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, a fierce critic of Beijing who is currently serving more than a year in prison for attending unauthorized protests.
“Freedom of the press is not a ‘shield’ for illegal activities,” the Chinese government’s Liaison Office said in a statement. “No matter what kind of professional status and background they have, no matter what kind of support they have behind them, anyone who violates the Hong Kong National Security Law and relevant laws will be severely punished by the law.”
This is telling a better story?
To put things in perspective, we are dealing with a ruling party that banned a Winnie the Pooh film in 2018 because of memes that spread online comparing Xi’s figure with that of AA Milne’s delightfully rotund fictional bear. Actions, indeed, speak louder than words.