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    Greater China
     Aug 15, '13

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Chinese propaganda as policy
By Andrew Chubb

Part One: Good cop, bad cop with China's generals

If outspoken Chinese military officers are, as Part One suggested, neither irrelevant loudmouths nor factional warriors, nor yet the voice of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on foreign policy, and are instead experts in the PLA-party propaganda system, then what might explain the bad publicity they often generate for China?

This article explores how the activities of China's military hawks may contribute to the regime's domestic and international goals. On a general level, the very appearance of a hawkish faction - the "opera" that Luo Yuan has described - serves the domestic purposes of promoting national unity. By amplifying threat

awareness and countering perceived Western plots to permeate the psyche of the Chinese populace and army, the "hawks" direct public dissatisfaction with the policy status quo away from the system as a whole.

In specific crises, such as the standoff at Scarborough Shoal last year or in the wake of the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands purchase, hard-line remarks from uniformed commentators serve to rally domestic public opinion behind the prospect of military action, instill confidence in the PLA's willingness to fight over the issue and deter China's adversary. By amplifying the possibility of otherwise irrational Chinese military action and inevitable escalation should Beijing's actions be interfered with, they have contributed to a thus-far successful effort to convince the Philippines and Japan to accept the new status quo around Scarborough Shoal and the Diaoyu Islands.

External propaganda
The PLA's external (duiwai) propaganda work system, which Part One showed most of the "hawks" belong to, has been greatly strengthened in recent years in line with an often-cited "series of important instructions" from Hu Jintao from 2006 onward. This effort has emphasized self-affirming aspects of propaganda-perhaps better translated as publicity and promotion-with particular regard to foreign audiences, aiming to increase understanding of China's policies, diminish "China threat theories" and shape a good international image for the PLA.

The General Political Department (GPD) Propaganda Department's External Propaganda Bureau was established in 2006 in response to a Xinhua report on the PLA's image in overseas media. The Xinhua PLA Bureau's year-long investigation reported in April 2006 that negative reports dominated Western public opinion on the PLA, with word associations of "security threat," "closed," "non-transparent" and "backward." Aside from openness issues, a follow-up investigation led by then-GPD Director Li Jinai found that China's media were used to using their own linguistic and thought conventions as well as domestic habits in external propaganda with less-than-ideal results.

These themes, and the general emphasis on improving international perceptions of the PLA, have continued throughout the all-military external propaganda push. General Li also said military external propaganda work must "adhere tightly to foreign audiences' needs for information on our military, adhere tightly to foreign audiences' habits of thought".

Recent writings on the topic emphasize activities including Ministry of Defense news conferences (not known for producing sensational statements), meet-the-press sessions, military open days (such as the recent event at a Xi'an air defense base), white papers, Chinese-foreign military cultural exchange and doing media interviews. [1] Yet, if military external propaganda activities are aimed solely at creating a positive image of the Chinese military among foreigners, why do specially-appointed "external propaganda experts" like Dai Xu and Luo Yuan make statements that generate negative publicity and stoke foreign perceptions of China as a military threat?

Part of the answer may be that external propaganda experts conduct activities aimed at both domestic and foreign audiences, including other parts of the Chinese government. Although the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) central propaganda apparatus has separate systems for domestic and foreign-oriented propaganda, the lines between the two have become increasingly blurred in practice. By 2003, the Central Propaganda Department argued that, due to the number of foreigners reading Chinese media, domestic propaganda should be seen as the same as external work. [2]

The all-army external propaganda push appears to reflect a similar dynamic. [3] External propaganda activities such as Ministry of Defense news conferences and military open days are conducted in Chinese and invariably produce stories in the Chinese media. In a state media report on the first "All-Army External Propaganda Backbone Training Class" held in 2009, PLA Nanjing Political Academy Military News Communications Department Director Gu Li referred to external propaganda tasks as "displaying our military's favorable image to our compatriots and the people of the world".

Likewise, Luo Yuan has spoken of opening a Weibo account as an aspect of external propaganda work. To the extent that external propaganda is aimed at both domestic and foreign audiences, it needs to balance convincing the world that China poses no military threat with convincing Chinese citizens that the PLA is capable of and committed to defending Chinese interests.

International deterrence?
Through the early stages of the 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, Major General Luo Yuan became the Chinese military's most prominent face, appearing in the mainland media almost daily. In particular, he attracted great attention for an article that directly criticized the government for de-escalating the situation, arguing China was being "bullied" and urging for the military to be sent in to occupy the shoal. Luo's frequent appearances appear to have been part of a state-led effort to focus public attention on the issue.

China's commercially-oriented media were understandably eager to amplify the likelihood of the country going to war, but the discourse of impending conflict was driven by inflammatory central media coverage and escalatory official comments.

A case in point was a Global Times editorial titled "If Friction Continues, It Will be a Miracle If China and the Philippines Don't Go To War". The paper's in-house opinion polling center conducted a hasty survey in late April and, unusually, released the detailed findings for free via the Global Times' website with the headline discovery that nearly 80% of Chinese people supported military retaliation to "provocation" in the South China Sea. Dai Xu added his own call for war in early May, arguing that even if the United States was hoping to provoke China into attacking the Philippines, China should do it anyway.

Moreover, foreign media reports that that PLA Navy's South Sea Fleet had entered a state war readiness were introduced into the Chinese media via Xinhua translation, fueling belief within China that China might be about to go to war if the Philippines did not back down. By May 10- 11, the prolonged ascendancy of "Chinese Warships Approach Philippine Territory" at the top of the Sina Weibo topic tree highlighted that not only was war with the Philippines an approved topic, but also that it had captured the attention of the public.

Along with economic punishment and conventional diplomatic protest, the displays of public war chatter and military outspokenness formed a part of China's strategy to convince the Philippines to desist from opposing its control of the disputed atoll. The foreign-directed aspects of the Scarborough Shoal media wave are suggested strongly by the choice of articles provided by Chinese state media in translation.

For example, a PLA Daily piece warning the standoff had become a matter of "national dignity and even social stability" was posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website, reinforcing what Philippines diplomats were hearing from their Chinese counterparts about the pressure they were under from the public. [4] The Global Times editorial mentioned above was published in English under the title, "Peace Will be a Miracle If Provocation Lasts".

After Luo's call for the military to be sent in was posted in English on government-run portal China.com.cn, Philippines President Benigno Aquino publicly called his bluff, stating, "We think that is more a statement that lacks substance [and is] not indicative or the real intentions." Eventually, however, the Philippines' ships did leave the area, leaving China in control, and they have not challenged the Chinese official presence there since, even as some of its fishing communities are being deprived of their livelihoods.

The exact reasoning behind the Philippines' decision-making is beyond the scope of this article; certainly it involved much more than simply Luo and Dai's hawkish comments and the manifestations of "public will" they helped bring forth. Both have stated their earnest belief in the power of minyi, Luo calling it "able to overturn ships".

The point is that their ostensibly warmongering remarks seem to have been designed not to provoke military conflict but rather to help ensure China achieved its objective while avoiding military conflict. The Philippines was deterred from opposing the new status quo, and China subdued its adversary without fighting (bu zhan er qu ren).

In the same way, the PLA "hawks" also may have helped China convince the Japanese government not to oppose the frequent entries of China's maritime patrol vessels in the territorial waters surrounding the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. When the Japanese government made its purchase of three of the disputed islands on September 10 last year, China appeared to be ready with an integrated civilian-military response.

Continued 1 2

Good cop, bad cop with China's generals
(Jul 29, '13)



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