Filling the ricebowl: The mainstream media’s anti-China obsession

Sep 15, 2023
Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping-Oct-23-2022

I chanced upon an article written by Peter Hartcher in The Age today (12/09/2023) and was astounded by how puerile the present mainstream media can be.

The article is titled “Xi’s increasingly ‘extreme’ rhetoric points to only one thing”. That one thing is war and that China is preparing for it. Hartcher is so obsessed with fighting a war with China that even President Xi’s inspection of rice paddies in Heilongjiang province in north-eastern China is presented as an abomination. Xi was found guilty of having said “increase production capacity to ensure that the grain production and supply are enough to meet usual demand, and can be used as a reliable supply source during extreme circumstances”. To a man obsessed with war, “extreme circumstances” has only one interpretation – “war”. Certainly, and true to propaganda, there is a strong element of truth in what he says. He even quoted a couple of Chinese (Jin Canrong, Xiaohua Yu, Liu Chin-tsai) authored sources to lend authenticity to his assertion – trick of the trade. They sounded even better because they were academic sources. It is a very good example of blaming the defender for belligerence.

He upbraided Xi’s perfectly normal leadership activity by saying: “While the other leaders discussed the need to maintain peace, accelerate economic growth, and pressure the military junta in Myanmar, China’s leader offered words of encouragement to the flood-affected north-eastern region but also an instruction: ‘Ensuring the country’s food security should be placed as the top priority’ … increase production capacity to ensure that the grain production and supply are enough to meet usual demand, and can be used as a reliable supply source during extreme circumstances”. This is a perfectly logical reaction when a country is surrounded by 80-plus bases; when Taiwan is armed to the teeth with US purchased and supplied arms; when the US and its allies are fighting a provoked proxy war in Ukraine. Would the United Kingdom countenance China supplying the IRA in Northern Ireland with an equivalent amount of arms? Let alone threaten war if the UK dares to react militarily? In being so threatened, would the UK not prepare for it by stocking up? Of course that would not happen; not just because the UK is in the bullys’ camp but because that it is not the Chinese way.

After mocking China’s efforts to produce more food to protect itself from contingencies, he went on to flex American muscles by indicating how the US could dominate the Eurasian landmass in a serious war by interdicting shipping and aviation movements to and from Asia; and that Biden was sending hardware of up to $US345 million to Taiwan from its Pentagon stores in July. That is the puerility of “My father is taller than your father!” kind.

Logically, would anyone expect China to do otherwise? Hartcher went on to quote: “Last year, the outgoing chief of US Indo-Pacific Command, Philip Davidson, said war over Taiwan was possible by 2027.” The only people who can predict an event so time specifically are the people who have intention to initiate it.

Hartcher’s contradictory thinking is so obvious to a discerning reader. Even without the threat of war on their doorsteps, the US and its NATO allies talk of derisking to reduce dependency and supply chain problems. Do they think that the Chinese are so alien a species that what they think is the product of the devil while the same logic coming from the West is profound wisdom?

I find Hartcher’s use of a tragic incident in recent Chinese history, the Great Leap Forward, as comparison with modern day Chinese efforts to help themselves quite distasteful. Britannica explains: “The program was implemented with such haste by overzealous cadres that implements were often melted to make steel in the backyard furnaces, and many farm animals were slaughtered by discontented peasants. These errors in implementation were made worse by a series of natural disasters and the withdrawal of Soviet support” Great-Leap-Forward The incident resulted in the death by starvation of an estimated 30 million Chinese (more than the whole population of Australia). The comparison with present day China is spurious. Today China is the most industrialised country in the world and the world’s biggest producer of steel. Moreover, he contradicts himself by quoting in the ninth paragraph of his essay that “… China’s grain self-sufficiency ratio has always remained above 97 per cent … ” It is Hatcher’s schadenfreude that many informed people in Australia would not share. If a connection were to be made, I would say that modern China is built on the backs of catastrophes and mistakes. They learnt, they understood and they moved on to try again. I am certain that it played an important role in Deng Xiaopeng’s motivation to open up the Chinese economy.

In order to further underpin the futility of the Chinese efforts to grow more food for themselves Hartcher cited The Financial Times reporter, Sun Yu, who found a patch of land in Chengdu where “Crops are often sparsely scattered and weeds were everywhere”, quoting an “unnamed local official” as saying “We reclaim these plots to send a signal that we care about food security. Output is not a priority”. Window dressing is everywhere in the US and Australia. China is not an exception – except that it was from an “unnamed source” (“A bird told me!” allegation).

Just to lend respectability to a riscible narrative, Hartcher ended it by citing Indonesian President Joko Widodo who said in the East Asia Summit “that if we are not able to manage differences, we will be destroyed.” With that, he was able to ride both the dragon and the bald eagle by saying “Neither Xi Jinping nor Joe Biden was there to hear him.” When I read that, I rolled my eyes and said, “Spare me!”.

Anyone in a democracy must be allowed to express anti-Chinese sentiments if he has reason to. However, the least that an informed reader expects is that the assertions should be reasonable and logical; an occasional mistake aside.

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