Earlier this month, Washington was riveted by the escape of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng to the US Embassy in Beijing and the intense US-China negotiations that ensued. In this Policy Alert, we highlight how the Chinese press has covered and commented on these events, and note some contrasting reactions from India.
Significant coverage and commentary in the officially sanctioned Chinese media portrayed Chen Guangchen in a very different light from Western media accounts.
- In several Global Times op-eds by individuals identified as bloggers and “grassroots intellectuals,” Chen was described as “ vulnerable to manipulation” and an “ unwitting tool” of some Western and domestic forces with “ulterior motives.” These authors also downplayed the extent of Chen’s fame inside China, with some attributing his imprisonment to local village disputes instead of his legal work.
- A commentator with the Chinese edition of the Global Times said that “Chen’s case is only an interlude for China’s development,” and that “it will not undermine social stability…[or] the progress of China’s human rights.“
On China-US relations, the China Daily echoed the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s stance that the US had violated international law and should apologize, but also cast Chen as a “one-man show” who was “just a distraction.”Regarding the concurrent Strategic Dialogue with the US, editorials stressed the problem of strategic mistrust between the two nations:
- “China’s claim that it does not intend to be a superpower will not convince Americans. But similarly China is not buying the US’ pledge of not wanting to contain China,” wrote the Global Times.
- In a similar tone, a senior writer with the China Daily noted that “it is a worrying fact that mutual distrust remains, despite the commitment and dedicated efforts of both leaderships and the bond between our two economies and our two peoples growing increasingly strong.”
Indian coverage of Chen Chuangchen drew mostly from Western news agencies and media organizations such as the New York Times, though there was some domestic commentary:
- Sreeram Sundar Chaulia, professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs, wrote in the Times of India that “A country which spends more on internal surveillance than on its military defence, and which has the largest number of political prisoners in the world has a lot to hide…The saga of Chen Guangcheng is thus not only a prickly issue in the US-China diplomatic relations but also a mirror of the distortions and myths imposed on Chinese society under a long spell of dictatorship.”
- An article in the Hindustan Times drew attention to several other imprisoned dissidents in China, and noted that “as the leadership of the Communist Party of China gears up for a once-in-a-decade change of leadership this autumn, the government seems to be increasingly sensitive towards critical opinion.”