A report this week on the Chinese Ambassador to France’s comments on the sovereignty of former Soviet Union countries made me think about how the West is useless at using the media, whereas China and Russia, among others, are very good at it. If that sounds like a total disconnect, bear with me.
We, in the West, tend to forget that the media are mostly driven by one cardinal rule: Bluntly speaking, and I apologize for the language, “selling more f…… newspapers”. Sensationalism overrides content, integrity, editorial input, sane reporting, and virtually every other consideration. Admittedly, we, the general public, are equally complicit in this singular driving force of sensationalism….we lap it up, and the media provide what we crave.
The Chinese ambassador incident is a great example of how the Chinese government is using the media. If we think about it, no Chinese government official, let alone an ambassador, would dare to make controversial, and/or sensationalist statements, without Beijing’s approval and direction. They would disappear so fast, their feet wouldn’t touch the ground. Given that reasonable assumption, let’s examine what most likely happened in this incident.
The remarks by China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, who said during a television interview that former Soviet countries don’t have “effective status in international law,” has caused diplomatic consternation, especially in the Baltic states. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia summoned Chinese representatives to ask for clarification, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, confirmed on Monday. Officials from Ukraine, Moldova, France and the European Union also all hit back with criticisms of Lu’s comments.
Lu made the remarks in response to a question on whether Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, was part of Ukraine. “Even these ex-Soviet countries don’t have an effective status in international law, because there was no international agreement to establish their status as sovereign countries,” Lu said, after first noting that the question of Crimea “depends on how the problem is perceived” as the region was “at the beginning Russian” and then “offered to Ukraine during the Soviet era.”
The remarks appeared to disavow the sovereignty of countries that became independent states, and United Nations members, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. They also come amid Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine under leader Vladimir Putin’s vision that that country belongs to Russia.
The Chinese embassy in France said later that Lu’s comments were “…..not a statement of policy, but an expression of personal views”. The statement continued, “On territorial sovereignty, the Chinese side’s position is consistent and clear. The Chinese side respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries and upholds the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.”
Now let’s look at the possible Chinese strategy in this fabricated scenario of using the media (my interpretation). I am not saying I’m correct, but I defy anyone to prove I’m wrong.
First, the Chinese ambassador makes an outrageous statement on sovereignty to get everyone’s attention. That sends a warning to Western countries that it tacitly supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but, far more importantly, it sends an unequivocal message to Western leaders of its intentions for the future of Taiwan.
Second, Beijing then announces, through official channels of the Chinese Embassy in Paris that it respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries, and upholds the purposes and principles of the UN charter.
The fabricated campaign has achieved its goals by manipulating the media. The Western governments have received the real message loud and clear while the general public and the complicit media have received, and probably believed, the conciliatory bullshit from an official Chinese government source. Western leadership has been effectively warned and the general public has been assured that China is complying with international laws. Mission accomplished!
I am not suggesting that we can do anything about the susceptibility of the media to reporting anything that is sensational, but I do bemoan the West’s apparently inability, and perhaps unwillingness, to start using the media in the same way as China, Russia and others who demean and decry democracy. If it’s open season one way, why not open season the other. Fight fire with fire.
The West is perfectly capable of designing such campaigns, perhaps even more so than autocratic regimes. Certainly the creativity of the West’s advertising industry could be co-opted to design such strategic programs.
It could change the balance of information power, particularly if those creative strategies could be targeted to the peoples of autocratic countries. All fair in love and war, as they say.
Let’s stop being stupidly naïve and hesitant, and use what is openly available to us. It may well be a matter of survival.