The Wall Street Journal asserted in its February 19 editorial Banished in Beijing that China doesn’t deserve to be treated as a great power. That claim was made after China’s Foreign Ministry revoked press credentials for three of its reporters over its insensitive article titled China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.
Is China overreacting? Yes and no.
A look at the timeline of this rift might help. On February 3, in the midst of China’s battle against coronavirus, the WSJ ran the op-ed article and put it on its Twitter account. On February 6, Global Times highlighted overseas netizens’ criticism of the article on its social media platforms, which was when Chinese readers began to catch wind of it and took to social media to voice their outrage. (Global Times might have never thought its readers would react so strongly, because it was not the first time the newspaper published articles of such breed). Foreign Ministry spokesperson then demanded an apology. After enduring two weeks of unresponsiveness, the Foreign Ministry revoked the press credentials in response to the people’s outrage.
Yes, it’s true, three press credentials over one headline. I, like my foreign counterparts, find the move surprising too. 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 are 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 when the whole nation was celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the New China)…
Very amusing, though.
But China hasn’t singled out 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 listening to the smear campaigns from the West.
But NOW is a different time. China has in effect entered a war time footing to contain the spread of a powerful contagious virus. The whole nation is doing its best and sacrificing immensely not only to protect itself but also the people around the globe. The “sick man of Asia” analogy, witty as it may sound, triggers the painful memories and the century of humiliation of the Chinese nation when the Chinese were bullied, enslaved, and massacred by imperialist forces. This headline is tantamount to placing a swastika near the Holocaust Museum or a confederate flag by the Museum of African American History. The Chinese people reacted strongly.
Under the guise of a so-called “free press,” The WSJ justified its action. But if such freedom means other’s agony, if such freedom tramples on other’s dignity, and if such freedom is harassment to those who are grieving, then there will and should be consequences.
It complained in its February 19 editorial that China didn’t renew press credentials of one of its reporters because of some article he/she wrote. As a reporter myself, I know too many Chinese reporters who got their visas checked by the American Embassy in China. Some would have to wait for as long as one year to get their visa renewed before they could go to their bases in the U.S. The U.S. Embassy gives them long lists of questions to fill. Much of the information it requires is either confidential information of the media they work or private issues of these Chinese reporters. Instead of triggering a public resentment, these Chinese reporters waited quietly for months before they can hear anything from the embassy. They respect the rules and regulations of their host country.
And by designating five Chinese media as “foreign missions,” the U.S. Government legitimizes its attempt to do exactly what it often accuses the Chinese Government of doing: controlling the Chinese media.
Truth, conscience, decency and respect should take priority over any other considerations when it comes to responsible journalism.
We all cherish the enormous weight the media carries. But there is one profound difference in how Chinese people view the media. The media should assume a role as a social stabilizer apart from its other functions. 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 to get such vast population to strive in the same direction.
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 of China’s media landscape. We remain committed to showing the world the real China, warts and all.
So it’s okay if the venerable Wall Street Journal keeps that headline or many of its other biased headlines, because China will prove it wrong again, as it has done continuously over the past few decades.
The author is Associate Executive Editor of Beijing Review
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