Anti-China rhetoric is off the charts: what explains the mass hysteria in the West?

Feb 24, 2023
Global communication network concept.

A key feature of following the news and reporting from mainstream Western media today is the relentless China bashing. It is off the charts, tiring, and often regurgitated trivia or fabricated stories with no evidence to support callous statements about the country, demonstrating a deep lack of understanding. But it continues to be churned out with no end in sight.

Countering this in international media by offering more balanced views for a global audience through fair opinion pieces is near impossible as censorship is rife: there almost seems to be a global compact to control the narrative, a propaganda war the likes of which the world has never seen before, powered by today’s digital technology.

Just try looking for a positive story on China any day of the week in any of the leading global media outlet. Apart from reports in January about Chinese New Year there will hardly be any, and they too are likely to have a negative spin. It would appear there is a confidential memo circulating within Western media groups that guides reporters and editors to ensure there cannot be any positive news arising from a country with 1.3 billion people. It is almost anybody’s guess who wrote that memo. Where did it come from?

Typically, the negative stories adhere to three core ideas, which inform the guidelines within the mysterious internal memo in these press rooms when it comes to reporting on China.

First is the belief that China is a threat to the world and that this belief must be relentlessly reinforced at every available opportunity. How and why is never explored, such is the deep-rooted and almost religious nature of the belief. Sound arguments do not matter. The basic tenets of good journalism are ignored when it comes to a China story. There is no need to explain or give evidence of why China is a global threat. Yet, there is plentiful evidence to shows China is not a global threat – even if one can point to mistakes and overreach in certain areas – and that it has not invaded any country in decades, or imposed sanctions which have devastated the lives of millions in poor countries, unlike the West, led by the US.

Second is that China must be linked to every possible global event that affects the West, or provides an opportunity for the West to bash it while simultaneously burnishing its own credentials as the supposed arbiters of what is right and wrong in international relations. From the pandemic to the Russia-Ukraine war to carbon emissions, rising sea levels, the scramble for rare earths, the building of infrastructure in Africa, or the production of vaccines, there must be an angle to demonise the country and instil fear in Western nations (and beyond) – reverting to the “yellow peril” of the late 1800s. There is no subtle and nuanced approach to instil fear like this. It is full-on and very often blatantly racist– but it is now acceptable for one to be racist about the Chinese in Western media, despite the fact that Black-White relations are very carefully described.

The third part of this phenomenon, which is surprisingly not challenged by liberal readers of mainstream media, is the sentiment that everything must be done – even illegal and unfair methods, as it is all fair game – to arrest the rise of China. In early February, the Chinese government openly advised the US to stop speaking about “containing China”. Never mind the rights of hundreds of millions of Chinese to have a better life after a century of poverty and deprivation. Headline after headline that capture this sentiment have normalized the view that there is a need to curb the rise of China and that this is a legitimate geo-political objective. There is no explanation about why or if it is even morally acceptable. It has become a feature of Western commentary on China to say that its rise is a concern and a threat. Thus, the West has the right to galvanize- and even bully – its allies and ask the absurd question “what should be done about China’s rise”, as if it does not have the right to carve its’ own place in the new world.

There is even a school of thought in the US that it was America that magnanimously allowed China its first baby steps into the globalized economy, and that in hindsight it was too nice to China. This view betrays everything that is imperial about the West and why it is unable to come to terms with the legitimate rights of other nations to grow and become powers in their own right: as if the rise of others is a gift of the West and they must never challenge its supremacy. The deeply entrenched view in the West from centuries of domination is that it will decide which nations will be permitted to be participants in the global economy according to its self-serving “rules-based order”.

Indeed, Western media seems wholly tied to the hegemonic competition view of geopolitics, constantly referencing the “Thucydides Trap” and being stuck in the Western canon as if there are no other ways of looking at geopolitics and world order. This view helps to demonise China while justifying the hegemonic position of the West – and the US in particular – as a globally stabilising force, and assumes conflict is inevitable. Needless to say, this is an extremely belligerent position to take, and not something media should be egging on. Whatever happened to promoting multilateralism? And why are people who speak to multilateralism side-lined as idealists or China apologists? This flies in the face of fair reporting.

So, what is the root cause of the media hysteria in the West? There can only be a few rational explanations.

A starting point would be that governments in the West have put pressure on the owners of these media outlets and sent them the aforementioned “memo”. Not every one of these media owners needs a great deal of persuasion given their own warped views about the world, sense of their own exceptionalism, race, ethnicity, and religion, not to mention their poor understanding of the aspiration of the global majority to improve the quality of their own lives. The more liberal ones would also have found it easy to comply given the herd mentality and the need to be seen to be patriotic whilst serving a paranoid version of national security. No one wants to be caught on the wrong side of the “you are with us or against us”, red line.

A second is that the owners believe – despite their purported reporting of “global views” – that their archetypal reader is a white person, and that all of these readers want to be assured that the world is not going to change, meaning that that the West and white privilege will remain a key feature of the modern age. Despite being business leaders, media owners seem to have forgotten that if they are to grow their business, this poor understanding about where their future growth markets are must change. Perhaps they need reminding that the West constitutes about 15% of the global population and if they want to grow, they need to cater to the needs of the global majority who no longer fall into their colonial stereotype definition of gullible fools, ready for the take and easily duped.

The third explanation is that journalists in these media outlets – especially those with previously liberal credentials – have undergone a major metamorphosis. What could be the reasons for this? First is their realisation that with the rise of social media, it is difficult to keep their jobs and stay relevant. Thus, one way is to trade in their supposed independence and intellect for the security of a wage – as long as they abide with the memo. This is understandable even if it means living with the untruths of their daily outputs. But this trade-off and relinquishing long-held beliefs about speaking truth to power and not fabricating stories becomes easier if you also start to recognise a very inconvenient truth: if non-Western nations like China rise and this helps usher in the arrival of the post-Western world faster than Western journalists imagined, then the white privilege that they have carried with them for so long as a free pass is going to be made redundant. This has likely triggered their survival instinct and they have turned rabid, in order to keep their jobs, and to retain what was taken for granted so long – the maintenance of white privilege across the world. Thus, they joined the efforts of the collective West, becoming a key tool of their governments – which many do not have a high regard for – in the grand project of demonising China. India will be next and there are early signs that this has already begun.

So, what must change? First is the recognition in China and the non-Western world that when it comes to the workings of the mainstream media we are in a new era – a propaganda war the likes of which the world has never seen before, powered by today’s digital technology. The media war is real, and tech-driven, and it is not a fight for eyeballs to deliver fair, honest, and educational news. It is almost everything else but that, especially when it comes to China or other enemies of the West. Take for example the startling revelations by Seymour Hersh, widely regarded in the US as one of the leading investigative journalists of the last half century, that the Nord Stream pipeline was blown up by the USA. He and his report have been almost totally ignored by the leading Western media outlets. There has been hardly any coverage, yet there has been an overkill about Chinese balloons over US airspace. This in the eyes of the world discredits them more than anything they can print.

The media war is real, and tech-driven, and it is not a fight for eyeballs, but about fair, honest and educational news.

It is sheer propaganda and the preservation of Western power. Participants include the most well-known brands in the Western media world who are household names across the world. The idea that Western media is run by fair-minded people who are driven by a desire to talk truth to power and are independent is a mirage. It is a myth, and it is a bitter pill that needs to be swallowed. The idea that the Western journalist is a paragon of virtue also needs to be banished from the minds of consumers of media. That is the first stage in enabling one to step out of the propaganda mist we are engulfed in on a daily basis, so that one can examine different viewpoints as news is consumed. This is not easy given the current dominance of Western media outlets and their apparently collective mission.

So, the next step is to dismantle the dominance of Western media.

This too will be a long, hard fight. Mainstream Western media is the most powerful in the world and for close to a century, Western media has had a stranglehold on the dissemination of international news and viewpoints across the world. Many had their origins in colonialism, the preservation of empire and later the spread of Western ideas about how the world should be run. It is a powerful economic power and dislodging it will require investments.

Across the world there is an opportunity to contribute to this effort, not necessarily by building large media companies but by investing in media companies that are committed to fair and objective analysis, so that local audiences in the first instance have choices and are not inundated by the propaganda of mainstream Western media. This too will not be an easy task and there are many hurdles to overcome, but this is not the space to dive into those details. Ultimately, it is all about readers becoming more aware of global issues by having more non-Western sources to rely on, so they are not victims of the current propaganda war. This is beginning to happen as more alternatives flourish.

It is an urgent need in the West too so that the mass hysteria generated by mainstream media is prevented from creating fear and pitting Western societies against the rest of the World. Today it is China, tomorrow India and then maybe Africa.

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