Why China Repeatedly Demands an Apology from the Wall Street Journal
China and the U.S. are moving from trade friction to media clash
By Liu Yunyun  ·  2020-02-03  ·   Source: NO.10 MARCH 5, 2020

In an opinion article by its editorial board on February 19, Banished in Beijingthe Wall Street Journal (WSJ) obliquely questioned China deserving to be treated as a great power after China's Foreign Ministry revoked the press credentials of three WSJ reporters over an insensitive article titled China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.

At today's press conference, Foreign Ministry's new spokesperson Zhao Lijian again demanded an apology and stated that China won't be a "silent lamb."

Was the Chinese Government overreacting? You need to know the whole picture to understand that.

On February 3, in the midst of China's grim battle against the novel coronavirus, the WSJ ran the op-ed article and put it on its Twitter account. On February 6, the Global Times highlighted overseas netizens' criticism of the article on its social media platforms, and subsequently, Chinese readers began to catch wind of it and took to the social media to voice their outrage.

The Foreign Ministry demanded an apology for the “racially discriminatory” headline and after two weeks of silence from the WSJ, revoked the press credentials of the three reporters.

Yes, it's true, three press credentials over one headline. Many foreign correspondents in China found the move drastic. On any given week, there are loads of articles in the Western media attacking China and the Communist Party of China. Take a look at these headlines, they have been getting from bad to worse: China's Collapse Has Only Begun; Stop Investing in China's Brutality; Why China Is Ready To Fall Apart; China is inventing a whole new way to oppress a people; China’s Communist Party is as shadowy and repressive as when it took power 70 years ago. (This one was published during the nationwide celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the New China.)…

Yet China hasn't taken action against any of these media outlets. In fact, the country has become immune to negative press for the most part. China didn’t become the world’s second largest economy by getting swayed by the smear campaigns from the West.

But NOW is a different time. China is in effect on a war footing to contain the spread of a powerful and new virus, with its people doing their best and making immense sacrifices not only to protect the nation but also the people around the globe. At this juncture, the "sick man of Asia" epithet is particularly insensitive and offensive.

The analogy, though witty as it sounds to its creator, revives the painful memory of the century of humiliation of the Chinese nation in the past when the Chinese were bullied, enslaved and massacred by imperialist forces. The headline is tantamount to placing a swastika near the Holocaust Museum or a confederate flag by the National Museum of African American History. Once you know the background, you realize why the Chinese reacted so strongly.

The WSJ has justified its action, chalking it up to freedom of the press. But when one man's freedom means another's pain and humiliation, if such freedom tramples on another's dignity, and if such freedom rubs salt in the wound of all those who are grieving, then there will be consequences.

The WSJ also said in the February-19 article that the press credentials of one of its reporters were not renewed in August because of an article written by the reporter. On the other hand, as a journalist myself, I too know too well the plight of Chinese reporters who wait to get their visas from the American Embassy in Beijing. Some had to wait for as long as one year to get their visa renewed before they could go back to their bases in the U.S.

The U.S. Embassy gives them a long list of questions to answer. Much of the information it requires is either confidential information about the media they work for or about their personal details. But instead of creating a public hullabaloo, these reporters wait quietly for months to hear from the embassy. They respect the rules and regulations of their host country.

Prior to the WSJ incident, the U.S. Government designated five Chinese media as "foreign missions," which is an attempt to do exactly what it always accuses the Chinese Government of doing: controlling the Chinese media.

Truth, decency and respect should be the basic tenets of responsible journalism. While we all cherish the enormous weight the media carries, there is one profound difference in how the Chinese view it. For us, the media needs to contribute to social stability, not disrupt society. China has a population of 1.4 billion. It's hard to get a family of four to agree on what to have for breakfast, let alone get such vast population to strive in the same direction. But that has to be done for the development of the nation.

The media should avoid instigating resentment and stoking anger. We advocate responsible journalism, where the common good outweighs individual interests. We champion introspection rather than finger-pointing. We refrain from shouting destructive opinions when constructive suggestions are not readily available.

Dedicated journalists who point out genuine issues in a responsible manner are an indispensable part in achieving the great Chinese dream. And we remain committed to showing the world the real China, warts and all.

The author is associate executive editor of Beijing Review

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com 

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