China's Media Stay on Message
If you read China's online press, this week's meeting between President Hu Jintao and George W. Bush is a get-together of natural partners who, but for a few misunderstandings, could and should be much better friends.
The relationship, says the People's Daily Online, is "maturing."
The Chinese commentary on Hu's visit doesn't just closely follow Hu's message to. It is Hu's message. The leading English language news sites are all controlled by the government. To get a more complete picture of the dance between the world's most powerful nation and the world' most populous country, you have to read other Asian online commentators.
Key themes of Hu's U.S. tour, from some Asian media's perspective:
1. China's economic gains don't come at America's expense.
In China Daily, analysts Zhou Shijian and Wang Lijun cite the example of a Barbie doll that sells for $9.99 on U.S. shelves. It is sold by manufacturers in China for $2 each. But Barbie's raw materials, they note, "come from the Middle East and are made into semi-products in Taiwan. The wigs are made in Japan, and the packing materials are provided by the United States."
The three parts of the doll package cost the Chinese firm $1, they say. Transportation and management cost another 65 cents. Thus the mainland, credited with $2 in exports, has really only gained about 35 cents. In other words, they say statistics that show a massive trade surplus in China's favor don't capture the realities of the trade relationship.
Self-serving? Michael DeGolyer, a columnist for the Hong Kong Standard, an independent business newspaper, thinks not. What matters, he says, is that the U.S. trade deficit with East Asia as a whole has actually narrowed. He says the United States would be wise to resist a "trade war."
2. Taiwan is a closed issue.
Chinese Ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong told People's Daily Online that he hopes the United States will "properly handle the Taiwan issue, and work with the Chinese government to maintain the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and stand up for the Sino-US common interests." In other words, China will tacitly accept the island's democratic capitalist system but regard any formal expressions of sympathy as a hostile act.
The economic reality beneath that diplomatic language is that Taiwan is "the largest single investor in mainland China," and the "principal source of China's technological revolution," as noted by Jonathan Powers of the International Herald Tribune. China's claim to the island and American sympathy for its democratic capitalist system, make the island "one of the world's most dangerous potential flashpoints," Powers says.
While Taiwanese don't like China's intimidating stance, says the Manichi Daily News in Japan, they don't want to create problems for President Bush and United States, whom the island regards as its bulwark against a Chinese takeover.
3. China poses no threat to the United States.
The People's Daily cites Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to China last fall, saying that Rumseld has changed his view of "China's quickening pace in defence modernization," now finding it "understandable."
A less political perspective of Rumsfeld dominated the Chinese online media in February, when the Department of Defense released its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review outlining U.S. world strategy for next four years. The three paragraphs in the 92-page document that concerned China received close and extensive analysis.
Back then, the PDO said the Pentagon report "is making an imaginary enemy and taking 'China Threat' as its pretext to develop long-range and short-range weapons and aircraft and submarines. This can only prove that the defense secretary is shortsighted. And the people in DOD are still using 'Cold War' mindset to see today's China and do not see the peaceful development in China."
When Hu isn't visiting America, China's media downplay the claim that China is a threat, and put more emphasis on the view that America is. The bottom line: under China's authoritarian system, its media outlets place an emphasis on exercising message discipline.
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