Magazine article New Internationalist

Protecting the Paper Tiger

Magazine article New Internationalist

Protecting the Paper Tiger

Article excerpt

China's President Jiang Zemin was among the first world leaders to declare sympathy with and support for the US in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The occasion marked the first significant thawing of Sino-US relations since the Chinese capture of two American military jets earlier this year.

As many analysts have pointed out, it is understandable that the Chinese Government has this time rallied behind the US. China has itself been beset by growing domestic terrorism. Ethnic separatists from Tibet and particularly from the Muslim Xinjiang region have from time to time resorted to sabotage in pursuit of independence. There have also been numerous incidences of bomb attacks carried out by workers and peasants desperate about their deteriorating lives. What is more, the Government probably saw an immediate advantage in trading off a strategic favour to the US for a free rein in its handling of the potentially explosive 'reunification' with Taiwan.

The Government's and the people's views, however, are not necessarily the same. Little is known outside China about the much-suppressed popular anti-American sentiments which expressed themselves on this occasion in support of the terrorist attacks. Euphoric messages about the spectacular attack on the hegemonist superpower of America circulated in the streets and internets of China. One such message read: 'The US has always carried out state terrorism. They are only getting back what they've done to other nations.'

So rife and so strong were the anti-American sentiments that the authorities found it necessary on 13 September to censor and remove all such messages from its controlled websites such as the China Youth Daily and the People's Daily. The Government also ordered the media to tone down its reporting and analysis of the incidents so as to cool down anti-American feeling.

This apparent dichotomy between the official and popular stances on the terrorist attacks is largely the result of decades of government propaganda. From the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 under the rule of Mao Zedong, America was portrayed as the arch-enemy of the Chinese and the oppressor of all people in the Third World. China's second revolutionary ruler, Deng Xiaoping, changed course and started a new era of rapprochement between the US and China in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nevertheless, US denunciation of human-rights violations in China - especially after the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1989 - continually caused rifts between the two countries. …

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