Monday, January 25
At the very beginning of this year, James Murdoch expounded in the Financial Times on what he sees as a massive deterioration of the credibility of independence in Western media. His strongly worded statement, which castigated the US media for the “toxic politics” threatening American democracy, said that proprietors are as culpable as politicians who “know the truth but choose instead to propagate lies”.
The power of media is immense and has always been influential in politics. However, there has been a shift towards the ultra-partisan, and censorship or the drowning out of alternative views, often substituting the real for the idiotic, or at the very least to hold the prevailing line at the cost of all dissenting voices.
I am reminded of this by my being thrown out of Bill Bishop’s Washington based ‘Sinocism’ newsletter this week. While encouraging readers – and it is a newsletter one has to subscribe to – to contribute, I provided comments and links to articles I had written to illustrate my point of view. All perfectly amiable, and all related and well written viewpoints. However, three of Bills readers apparently complained, accusing me of ‘self promotion’. Bishop then terminated my subscription and threw me off the site as he didn’t wish to ‘disturb his community’. Despite the issue that while Sinocism visibly encourages participation, it seems that is only if your views fit in with everybody else’s and exists as a community where viewpoints can be dismissed as ‘self promotion’ should they not fit in with the previously determined dialogue.
While my case is a little pathetique, even amusing, there is a greater significance, as Bishop is extensively quoted in British media, over issues concerning Jack Ma’s whereabouts in China. I have nothing against Bill Bishop, I once interviewed him in my office in Shanghai, although I never took that any further.
However, as James Murdoch points out, there is a very fine line in reporting, and Sinocism’s weakness is that it is becoming a predictable source of pre-determined propaganda: alternative viewpoints expressed on the site are no longer tolerated, and those that provide them are ejected. It also worries me that a hawkish American, living in Washington, now appears to be the go-to China source for UK media. There are numerous, credible UK-China experts in the field, yet it appears London – and the British media – would rather take their cue from Washington. It is dangerous, and James Murdoch’s words of caution would do well to be heeded in boardrooms across the United States and Europe.
Sticking with the United States, one of the issues Washington is slowly starting to recognize but is loath to adequately deal with in any manner other than antagonism is that the US has lost its forward-thinking approach. It constantly looks backwards, not forwards. Terms such a new ‘Cold War’, and ‘Communist China’ abound. The CCP today is far removed from the CPC of Mao’s day. The Cold War finished in 1962.
What is now apparent is that no one nation can run the world anymore. But one nation can supply the global outline and their regional plan, and that nation is China.
No one has any real idea of the Chinese way of working, nor adequately appreciates their patience. It remains quite possible that there is no long-term master plan, other than a 500 year vision which is amended constantly by reality. This will never be revealed, as it is not a target. It is a discipline to test near-term plans.
The Chinese meanwhile watch the USA, UK, Europe, and others thrash about in a world that is transforming. It is world China wishes to retain influence over, even Bejing cannot control destiny, and neither can Washington. The Chinese though watch patiently as Trumps come and go. The Americans impose sanctions to prevent change.
This could still implode. The US assault led by Trump fell apart on a coincidental COVID impact. But the next time the force of change and challenge may not be from Washington. Our bets are that the emerging new East and South East Asian based world is almost real. The decline of the dollar in the region and the linkage of infrastructure is already emerging, and it appears that the likes of Bill Bishop and other Western media can feel this, and their increasing impotence in doing anything about it. They may not realize it, but it is for this reason that they adopt a head in the sand approach, denying alternative views and fighting any moves to acknowledge the contrary.
James Murdoch spotted the symptoms: change is coming, no one country can now run the world, and there are alternatives to the United States. It is the only way one can truly understand the negative media barrage against the likes of China, Russia, and the Belt & Road Initiative. There is resistance to change, yet history tells us repeatedly it inevitably occurs. That change is happening. In a little-reported event, 34 Asian nations Foreign Ministers and their representatives met under the banner of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue last week. My comments about the significance of that are on the Asia Briefing homepage. Yet the occasion merits little to no mention in the West. There will then be surprises in store for those who do not pay attention.
The role of media therefore also needs to evolve, pay closer attention to global issues, and look ahead, at what can be, not sustaining what is already yesterday’s history and structures. And as Covid has more than adequately shown, many of those are already broken. A new approach, a new way of thinking is required in these bruised and damaged times. Who will take the lead? Thus far, it has been China.
Elsewhere this week, my colleague Ines Liu in Beijing provides an excellent overview of the steps the city is taking to project itself as a services center, well worth a read for examples of how China is relaxing its attitude towards foreign investors and providing improved market access.
Our special feature this week is the subject of Holidays! As we move towards the Lunar New Year and Spring Festivals across Asia, we provide details of the 2021 holiday schedules for much of the region. This year will be the year of the Ox, to which I am partial as I am also a Taurus. Jokes about ‘Bulls in China shops’ can be submitted to the usual email address….
With best regards;
Chairman, Dezan Shira & Associates
Publisher, Asia Briefing
Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal commentary, belong solely to the contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Asia Briefing Limited or Dezan Shira & Associates.