Is China's Global Times Misunderstood?

Is China's Global Times Misunderstood?


A growing conviction is taking root in America that Chinese views of the international system are becoming increasingly assertive and nationalistic. One of the prime referents for this contention is the Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao), a hugely popular Chinese newspaper that is frequently portrayed as promoting an ever more hardline and nationalist take on the world.

At first glance this reputation appears to be well deserved.  In recent months the paper has published a number of combative editorials on the ongoing standoff with the Philippines regarding ownership of portions of the South China Sea and its territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.  In short, it appears to be at the epicenter of a growing wave of aggressive Chinese rhetoric.  The actual content of the paper, however, does not live up to such a characterization.

The Global Times’ editorial page, called the International Forum (Guoji Luntan), contains a much more diverse set of views than the paper’s reputation would lead one to expect.  Editorials have appeared in this influential section of the paper for well over a decade. A comprehensive reading of these pieces uncovers that while fervent nationalist perspectives were published during this time, the most prolific non-staff contributors to the International Forum did not frequently promote such a worldview.  On the contrary, within this elite group a plurality of perspectives about both China and the rest of the international system was evident.  Even more surprisingly, in recent years such diversity of opinion became more, rather than less, pronounced.

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The top contributors to the International Forum fell into two distinct periods.  The first of these lasted from 1999 through October of 2008.  During this time the vast majority of authors were members of the Chinese foreign policy establishment. While a handful of these individuals consistently expressed combative views about China’s position in the world, most were not especially assertive and generally promoted conventional, albeit largely realist, stances on international relations.  Writing that was quite internationalist and cosmopolitan in both tone and tenor often complemented these approaches. Nationalism, while visible, was far from the dominant note in such commentary.

Fall 2008 witnessed a sizeable shift in both the editorial page’s top contributors and the content of their essays, as a new crop of authors with backgrounds in economics assumed prominence.This new group’s celebrity stems as much from their popularity in cyberspace as stature in academic journals, and their writings focused on the repercussions of the worldwide economic downturn rather than traditional security concerns.

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