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Western media’s Pyrrhic victory on Peng Shuai story

Perhaps they should report on what really happened with the alleged 'collision' of the USS Connecticut in the South China Sea, Lim Teck Ghee writes


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Hype and hypocrisy are often two sides of the same coin. The BBC and The Guardian editors should prove that they are not just being media and increasingly dogs of war in their China coverage.

The grand prize for the biggest media hype in recent years must go to the British-led media. Since 3 November, when the Peng Shuai story first broke, foreign readers of The Guardian and BBC have been inundated with a flood of daily articles focusing on her case and attempts to tie it with what the papers identify as associated issues such as the charges of China’s crimes against humanity, alleged genocide in Xinjiang, use of slave labour, repressive policies in Hongkong and Taiwan, and efforts to dominate the world beginning with the South China Sea.

Television coverage of the story with pictures of the tennis star and interviews with an array of commentators, including from the community of famous tennis players, and ‘in-depth’ analyses by armchair critics have kept the story hot and alive to a larger audience.

To be sure, the plight of Peng Shuai is newsworthy perhaps for a day or two, but what are the real reasons for making it hog and clog the national and global news coverage of these media outfits day after day over the past three weeks?

The most important but not obvious objective of this story is to leverage on it and to manipulate it to deflect public attention towards their real target – the Chinese government. And from the number of inches – now reaching feet – of news columns given to it, the objective of this particular sustained anti-China narrative in reaching a wide readership appears to have succeeded.

Confirmation of success and the invigorated role of Western media in being the handmaiden of war- mongering elements in Britain, the US and Australia can be seen in the way the Anglo Saxon-dominated governments have latched on to the Peng Shuai case to demonise further China’s record on human rights and media freedom and the Communist Party leadership.

READ MORE:  Stop the warmongering

Besides making the Chinese government look bad, the case is being pushed to justify a diplomatic and larger boycott of the coming Beijing Winter Olympics.

Although statements by the US, the UK and Australian governments had initially demanded that China provide “verifiable evidence” of Peng Shuai’s whereabouts and wellbeing or suffer the diplomatic consequences for not doing so, it is also clear that this campaign to tarnish China ahead of the Winter Olympics will continue whatever happens. If effective, the boycott of the winter games is intended to serve as a big body blow to Beijing’s international image.

Thus recent publication of photos and videos of Peng Shuai at a tennis tournament in Beijing and at a restaurant with friends and the most recent statement by the International Olympic Council president, Thomas Bach – that she had spoken to him for 30 minutes in a video call and assured him that she is safe and well and would to like have her privacy respected – have had no effect at all in stopping the propaganda onslaught, which the two paper’s editors must be congratulating themselves for initiating and sustaining.

China’s restrained response

The Chinese government’s response has been remarkably restrained on the Western media overkill on the Peng Shuai story. Initially noting that it was not a diplomatic matter, the latest Beijing statement called on “some people [to] stop deliberately and maliciously hyping [the issue] up, let alone politicise [it]”.

Notwithstanding Beijing’s calm reaction, the Western media will continue to be deeply engaged in attempts to damage China’s image at every possible opportunity. However, this propaganda war, spearheaded by what was previously regarded as more open and independent media, is not doing the international community and the domestic audience any favour or good by sensationalising and spinning stories aimed at arousing anti-China and anti-Chinese sentiments.

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If the justification is the need for news stories to sell, there are many other international and domestic concerns that they can move on to cover. Besides home-grown scandals and other headline-grabbing developments, the Tim Paine story, which broke after the Peng Shuai story with its graphic X-rated messages and images of parts of the anatomy, is guaranteed to titillate and sell well to readers all round the world.

And, if the intention is more geared as articulated in the BBC mission “to act in the public interest” and “to provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”, then coverage of news relating to the ongoing plight of tens of thousands of political migrants refused entry to the UK and Europe, the unresolved Brexit issues, resurgent Covid challenges, and most recently, the revelations of deeply entrenched racist sentiments and structures in the white-dominated sporting organisations of Britain are incomparably more important and newsworthy.

Perhaps the intention by focusing on the negative aspects of China is also to instigate a hostile response from China’s state media, which can then enable the western media to retaliate with further negative reporting. Such a development, while useful in terms of news marketing, will not serve the cause of peaceful coexistence or the interests of the public in the West and China.

Thankfully, Chinese reaction in a tit-for-tat battle has not come about yet, although both sides of the ideological divide can play the same game. It has been postulated that the relative absence of a belligerent response from Beijing’s state media to the anti-China western media is due to the weak and poor quality standards of China’s propaganda machinery as compared with the highly creative and experienced one of the West.

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Whatever the reason, western media should move on from the Peng Shuai story to more urgent and significant developments and stories in their home countries and abroad.

South China Sea: Potential World War Three battleground

And if it is a big China story that the BBC and The Guardian editors are intent on reporting, the two papers and other Western news agencies would do well to undertake an investigation and report on what really happened with the alleged ‘collision’ of the USS Connecticut in the South China Sea.

This story, with its backdrop in the South China Sea where US naval power is pitted against China’s naval defence, had been briefly covered as an accident which involved the nuclear submarine kissing an ‘unexpected sea mountain’ obstacle that caused it serious damage.

Other versions, however, have emerged which have been suppressed in the Western media. One recent version provides an as-yet-unconfirmed account that relates to the USS Connecticut’s engagement in an encounter with China’s navy near China’s coastline. Such an incident raises not only the possibility of a nuclear discharge, which will pollute the South China Sea but also runs the risk of precipitating a larger and potential world war beginning in our part of the world.

Hype and hypocrisy are often two sides of the same coin. The BBC and The Guardian editors should prove that they are not just being media dogs of war in their China coverage. – Eurasia Review

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in the Malaysian theSun daily and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia


The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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2 Dec 2021 2.07am

I would urge Lim Teck Ghee not to be blind to China’s belligerent behaviour towards other competing states in the South China Sea.

I predict China would be even more aggressive once her ambition of having at least 4 aircraft carriers is fulfilled.

That China does not recognise the arbitral decision by UNCLOS in favour of the Philippines is testimony to China’s disregard of the rule of law or in this case, law of the sea.

So, I would keep a close eye on China’s actions in the South China Sea and her intentions too.

Gram Massla
Gram Massla
1 Dec 2021 10.48pm

A most shameful defense of the most horrendous totalitarian nightmare currently in existence. The truth is western media is remarkably restrained in reporting about China’s conquered territories, East Turkestan and Tibet. There are even reports that the CCP has invested heavily in international media to buy its silence. As for SCS the CCP has deemed fit to claim, forcefully, the entire SCS on the basis of some flimsy piece of paper from some dynasty past. This has resulted in crass CCP bullying around the whole of SCS and despite the fact that the CCP, also a signatory to the UNCLOS, has rejected its verdict on SCS. Its actions involve threats to fishermen who have been fishing there for millennia. Utterly despicable.

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