It’s always struck me that the danger for governments with too compliant a media is that when they try to bring their message to the international stage, they’re unprepared for the critical thinking they’re likely to be exposed to by the international press.
As I’ve said before, China (a lowly 181 out of 195 countries in terms of press freedom according to the latest Freedom House rankings) is going to find itself under increasing scrutiny as it continues to play a more prominent international role, and the spotlight shined on it is not always going to show up something pretty.
The fall-out from the Copenhagen climate summit is a good case in point. John Lee, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute (who has also written one of the lead essays in our major APAC 2020 feature coming up next week) penned a scathing piece in Foreign Policy on China’s role in what was, in truth, a failed gathering:
‘[T]eams of international economists, scientists, inspectors, and statisticians roaming China to gather information on carbon emissions and reduction initiatives would have been unprecedented. In promoting China, Beijing projects an image of order and competence to the world. In parts of its wealthier coastal cities, China is that. But these international teams would undoubtedly discover exactly how dysfunctional the heart of the country really is. They would see firsthand and report back how China’s 45 million local officials remain the most formidable obstacle to improving transparency in China’s sprawling economic structure — protecting their turf, defending their privileges, arbitrarily enforcing the law, and when it comes to economic performance, blatantly cooking the books.’
Mark Lynas, a writer for the Guardian newspaper (and presumably not planning on setting up an office in China anytime soon) is equally scathing:
‘China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was ‘the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility’, said Christian Aid. ‘Rich countries have bullied developing nations,’ fumed Friends of the Earth International.’
The point here is that while in its own country, and for a domestic audience, China’s leaders would be able to rest on their laurels following such a PR coup, international commentators sifting through the debris of Copenhagen will be able to put together a more rounded picture. After all, mention the fireworks at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games and what springs to mind? How great they looked, or the fact that they turned out to be computer-generated.