Propaganda: The Western media’s “Taiwanese” airspace narrative

Jul 9, 2023
Photo of a map of Taiwan and the capital Taipei .

When it comes to propaganda the Chinese could learn a thing or two from the Western media.

A dictionary definition of propaganda states that it is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

In the West, our mainstream media warns us of the dangers of Russian or Chinese propaganda but their crude efforts are nothing when compared with the clever biased and misleading items we see daily in our media.

Take for example Jan Corban’s BBC program re-broadcast, as an ABC Four Corners on 2 June 2023.

With the title, Frontline Taiwan: Standing up to China the promotional blurb told us that the small island of Taiwan was in dire straits, stuck in the middle of a struggle between two nuclear superpower – China and the United States.

The propaganda is so cleverly woven into the text that an unwary viewer might not notice it. From the beginning the program leads viewers into accepting the false view that Taiwan is an independent state.

Let’s be quite clear here. Our Australian Department of Foreign Affairs states on its website that in 1972 Australia recognised the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as China’s sole legal government and acknowledged the position of the PRC that Taiwan was a province of the PRC.

In the previous year the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 2758, recognised the PRC as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations” and so it remains today.

Currently 180 UN member states recognise Beijing while only thirteen, mostly tiny states, such as Palau with a population of 18,000, recognise the Republic of China government in Taipei.

But with a careful presentation of the story, good propagandists can hide this central fact and create a believable false picture. So having created the impression that there is a country called Taiwan the Frontline program presenter goes on to talk about China encroaching on “Taiwanese” airspace.

There is no such thing as Taiwanese airspace any more than there is Tasmanian airspace. President Tsai Ing-wen has no more right to object to Chinese planes flying over Taiwan than Tasmanian Premier, Jeremy Rockliff has to object to Australian planes flying over Tasmania.

The fact that Chinese planes are not flagrantly flying over Taiwan is testimony to the government in Beijing’s wish to bring Taiwan peacefully into its fold.

However, if your objective is to push a US line that China is aggressive, it pays to create the impression that China is committing a crime when it flies planes over its own territory.

China Tonight

Apparently in an effort to show that it is a truly multicultural employer, the ABC has two young people of Chinese ethnicity – Samuel Yang and Annie Louey — presenting its weekly China Tonight program.

There is some attempt in this program to present straight news and informed comment. On 23 June, the BBC’s China Correspondent, Stephen McDonnell, who has been in China for 15 years, thoughtfully answered questions.

McDonnell was formerly the ABC’s Correspondent in Beijing and the fact that he is still there is worth noting.

In 2020 the ABC’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith were pulled out of Beijing at the height of the Morrison government’s anti-Chinese campaign. At that time, Australian authorities were planning to eject Chinese journalists and, expecting an adverse response from the Chinese, the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted Birtles’ and Smith’s employers in advance and advised them to get the two Australian journalists out of China.

As a result of this own goal, the ABC does not have a correspondent in mainland China.

China Tonight is a poor substitute for a correspondent on the ground, such as McDonnell, reporting daily on events.

Having mentioned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to get Chinese co-operation to curb opioid production, China Tonight presented an item on the opium wars telling us that the British had an insatiable demand for tea; they ran out of silver to pay for it; and they came up with the idea of balancing trade by supplying opium to China.

Fair enough.

But then University of Manchester, Professor Yangwen Zheng came up with a wonderful euphemistic rewriting of history. “The origins of the opium war is really not quite opium, you know. It’s really the wrong name. You could call it the tea war, or the you could call it the silver war.”

She went on to say: “Everything China is doing today is to prove to you – to the west – we are better than you are.”

Accompanied by photos of fighter planes and (presumably) Chinese aircraft carriers sailing with an escort of half a dozen warships, she said, “And of course the political consequences that we all see today — China become very aggressive — it’s because she suffered so much.”

Louey and Yang then chime in with Louey saying, “It’s interesting to see how the 100 years of humiliation is still being used by the CCP now as propaganda.”

Yang agrees, saying, “Yeah that analogy is still very powerful today. You know growing up in China I was taught about it in school. And students were constantly reminded how much Chinese people had suffered during that time from things like invasions from Western powers, or unequal treaties, which led to the occupations of Hong Kong and Macau for example.”

He added, “Chinese politicians can be very opportunistic about it. And Xi Jinping’s greatest ambition is to end that century of humiliation and bring national rejuvenation.”

The opium wars were not trivial tea wars.

Chinese leaders or school teachers talking about these wars and the 100 years of the humiliation are no more engaged in propaganda than Irish politicians talking about the famine.

Teaching about these events in Chinese schools and reminding these students about the Western (and Japanese) invasions and unequal treaties are every bit as reasonable as teaching Australian students about World War II and Japanese aggression.

There is more propaganda in Professor Yangwen Zheng taking “Chinese aggression” as read and the presenters allowing this to go unquestioned than there is in Chinese recollections of the opium wars.

Precisely what “aggression” are they talking about?

Is there anything to compare with the recent US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombings of Syria? Or the host of post-World War II actions the US has taken such as in Cuba, Grenada, Guatemala, Iran and Vietnam to name but a few.

The best they can come up with is a few skirmishes on the border with India, the Chinese flying in their own airspace over the South China Sea, or sailing their ships off China, or building airstrips on rocky outcrops off the coast of China.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles from home, US aircraft carriers sail off the coast of China while US warplanes fly overhead.

Now if you were an observer from outer space, which country’s actions look aggressive?


For more on this topic, we recommend:

What would US-China war really mean?

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