Published: 23:25, August 16, 2021 | Updated: 10:26, August 17, 2021
What's needed to tell the China story effectively
By Ho Lok-sang

One important task at hand that the Communist Party of China fully understands and has expressly stated multiple times is “to tell the China story effectively”. I read China Daily regularly, and I find many of the stories published in it are very well written and depict a China that is vibrant, happy and full of good people who want to help one another or otherwise contribute to the country. The stories are all told very well. But alas, no matter how well the stories are told, they are often dismissed by people under the impression that they are published in media that are “mouthpieces of the CPC”. Because they have been censored, people believe, the stories are one-sided and not worth a look. To tell the China story effectively, we must change that impression.    

While China has been struggling to tell its stories well, the Western media has been very effective in demonizing China. Why? That is not because their commentaries are well argued, evidence-based, or short of fabricated stories. They are much more influential just because they operate in an environment of a “free press”. The “free press” allows criticisms of the government and diverse views, even views that are entirely opposite to the official line. These days, some minor outlets still carry news favorable to China, but they are not influential. 

It is well known that many of the US mainstream media are controlled by a few very influential families. For example, the Sulzbergers control The New York Times; Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post; the Murdochs, The Wall Street Journal; and so on. Since there are still many sources of news these days, the “single voice” label is rarely considered to apply to the Western press. 

This does not mean that the Western media commands a lot of trust from the public. The Pew Research Center tracks trust in the media and it found less than half of Americans trust the news and 72 percent of US adults say news organizations do an insufficient job revealing their funding sources. One report says six media giants control a whopping 90 percent of what Americans read, watch, or listen to. 

It is exactly this appearance of independence of the Western press and the appearance of the lack of independence of the Chinese press that rendered the former much more influential than China’s.  

Another problem is that sometimes the image of the CPC is tarnished by unhappy developments. 

Yeung Chee-kong, a senior education administrator in Hong Kong, recently criticized the Education Bureau for its persistent lack of supervision of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. In his view, this dereliction of duty has caused damage in five serious areas. First is that large numbers of students were misled and now face the grim reality of being held responsible for crimes committed during the riotous protests. Second is that those teachers who had played a part in misleading their students will harbor a sense of guilt. Third is that the HKPTU is now coming to its demise. Fourth is that the Education Bureau has given people the impression that they were folding their arms all along and doing nothing but sprang into action as soon as the official mainland media voiced strong criticisms of the HKPTU. Finally, the central government was forced into doing something that “appeared to contravene the Basic Law requirement of noninterference with Hong Kong’s affairs”.   

Unfortunately, each time the central government is embarrassed in this or similar ways, its credibility is adversely affected. This will make it more difficult for China to tell its stories to the international audience.    

More importantly, we need to revise Article 21 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is truly a stumbling block for China to tell its stories straight. 

The problem is that clause says, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Just because China’s government is not elected in “periodic and genuine elections,” the clause is saying that China is, by definition, not democratic. But people should not mix up means and ends. Equal political rights are a value that we all share. But what are the best means to achieve equal political rights is something that needs to be studied scientifically.   

China's model of governance is a public infrastructure that has served China well. To tell China’s story effectively, we need to let the world know that the Party is not a group of people with vested interests to defend but is striving to serve the Chinese people. China’s rapid development since its opening in 1979 has shown that China’s system is serving its people well.

The author is director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.