Published: 21:32, November 13, 2023 | Updated: 12:24, November 15, 2023
Unfair portrayal of China undermines understanding
By Ho Lok-sang

CNN published a story on Friday titled China Has a Sweeping Vision to Reshape the World — and Countries are Listening. The message that “countries are listening” sounds positive. But I soon learned that it was just another piece of Western propaganda.

Simone McCarthy, the author, followed the same mainstream rhetoric. Her opening paragraph is shocking. She wrote that President Xi Jinping is “escalating his push to challenge America’s global leadership — and put his vision front and center”.

I wonder where McCarthy got this idea about China’s having a plan for how the world should work. Actually, the following words in her article contradict the argument.

McCarthy cited the Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative as saying that “the initiatives echo some of Beijing’s long-standing talking points and are largely short on detail and heavy on rhetoric”. Clearly, President Xi’s initiatives merely point to a vision for a “shared future for mankind.” What is wrong with that?

McCarthy warned: “This campaign has raised concern that a world modeled on Beijing’s rules is also one where features of its iron-fisted, autocratic rule … could become globally accepted practices.” Does McCarthy have any evidence that China’s governance is heavy-handed or “iron-fisted”?

China of course has to protect its national security, but the ruling Party does not represent a factional interest. Given that the Party’s mandate is to serve the public interest, it is a public infrastructure that is important to all Chinese people. Ensuring that it is free from subversion by self-serving factions or self-serving foreign governments is not political oppression.

McCarthy is worried about “a future that hews to China’s worldview.” One wonders why she is worried when that worldview is merely a vision of multilateralism, equality, peace, and common prosperity. She talked about how “a period of unrelenting tensions with … Washington elevates the stakes of the US-China rivalry”, but such a rivalry is exactly what China wants to ward off. China is merely developing its own economy: providing quality education; quality healthcare; improving its infrastructure in transportation, energy security, governance, food security, and fighting climate change; and, of course, research and technological prowess. China is of course also improving its military all the time, but this is to defend itself against military advances from unfriendly countries.

China, as a peacefully rising country, has no interest in a rivalry with the US or with any other countries. It also has not claimed more land beyond what China claimed at the end of World War II

The United States officially accepts that Taiwan is part of China and that there is only one China. But its media is portraying Taiwan as an independent “democracy”. The US is also aggressively selling arms to Taiwan and relentlessly crossing the red line about Taiwan that China has made clear from the time when the US and China established diplomatic relations. Is it not the time now for the US to step back and adhere to what it has officially agreed?

China, as a peacefully rising country, has no interest in a rivalry with the US or with any other countries. It also has not claimed more land beyond what China claimed at the end of World War II. The dispute over the South China Sea between China and other countries in the area, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, has nothing to do with the People’s Republic of China’s trying to extend its borders at the expense of other countries.

Even more ridiculous is a recent article in The Tablet, the UK-based international Catholic news weekly, which called Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, “one of the region’s most repressive police states,” with religious freedom “teetering on the brink”. The narrative is not surprising to me, but it is sheer misinformation.

The author, Benedict Rogers, detailed what in his view are the four main aspects of religious repression. He says, first, that the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) incriminates secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements. But this is nothing special. The US and UK both have similar laws. Second, he believes, there is self-censorship in churches after the promulgation of the NSL. Third, “the regime of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is now dictating the curriculum, brainwashing pupils with ideological narratives and propaganda”. Fourth, the “Sinicization” of religion and the effective co-option of religious bodies function as the mouthpieces of Communist Party propaganda.

What Rogers sees to be “propaganda” is just a genuine message to students that they should love the country and should work for the best interest of the Chinese people. His criticisms are all based on the misconception that China’s political system is an adversarial one. But all allegations fall apart when it is acknowledged that the CPC has no fixed ideology but keeps correcting itself to serve the nation’s best interests so its people can have a better future.

This is not propaganda. Can Rogers see what the Party has led the country to achieve over the past half-century?

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

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.