Wave of war propaganda – Asian Media Report

Mar 11, 2023
Press conference in China. Candidate give interview to media. 3D rendered illustration.

In Asian media this week: War talk means uphill battle to mend ties with China. Plus: US avoids a truthful narrative; South Korea to pay for Japan’s wartime abuse; rich countries, energy giants throttle poor nations; new terms – active non-alignment and coalition of unwilling; ‘sorry’ now the easy word.

The Nine newspapers’ avowedly independent assertion of an imminent Chinese military threat is, as seen from Beijing, part of a wave of Australian war propaganda.

Last month, Sky News showed a documentary, Are We Ready for War? And the ABC produced a two-part series, What Would War with China Look Like for Australia?

Then came this week’s three-part series in Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, Red Alert.

Global Times, an official English-language newspaper, said: “This is quite unusual.”

It said the Red Alert presentation showed the papers wanted to portray China as an invader.

The series was based on the deliberations of a panel of five national security professionals. Three of the five, Global Times said, were linked to think-tanks funded by US agencies and the military-industrial complex.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had said it was good that the Australia-China relationship had become more stable.

“That is not what the US pleases to see or allow,” Global Times said. “The US wants to reverse the trend.

“Who is behind the hype? The answer is simply too obvious.”

On Monday, coincidentally, Global Times held an online Australia-China relations forum. Participants were Chen Hong, an Australia studies scholar, and former Australian diplomats John Lander and Bruce Haigh. Lander and Haigh have both contributed to Pearls and Irritations.

Observers tended to think the downward spiral in the relationship had been paused Global Times said in a report of the forum. But there were twists and turns that could not be ignored.

The participants agreed the deterioration in the relationship began with Australia’s introduction of foreign interference laws in 2017, laws directed at supposed interference by China. Lander said this was driven mainly by changed US attitudes towards China at about the same time.

Haigh said the political opposition in Australia had collapsed and the media were not holding a mirror to the government.

“For Australia, there is an uphill battle in terms of resetting its ties with China, Haigh emphasised,” Global Times said.

China Daily said in an editorial on Wednesday the Albanese government had displayed pragmatism and strategic autonomy in its diplomatic and trade policies.

The paper said: “It serves not only Australian interests but also sets a good example for other countries on upholding multilateralism, if not the possibility of maintaining constructive relations with both the United States and China at the same time.”

The editorial did not refer to Australian media reporting.

US-China battle over power, not ideology

Singapore elder statesman Kishore Mahbubani has a firm view of the importance of stories – known in the modern jargon as narratives – in geopolitical contests: they drive the course of human history.

In an opinion piece in The Straits Times, the veteran diplomat says the US-China contest – the biggest geopolitical contest of all time – is clearly a battle for primacy. But the US would not gain support if its narrative is that it is fighting to retain primacy.

“Hence the Biden administration is actively pushing the narrative that this is a global battle between democracy and autocracy,” Mahbubani says.

Some European leaders accept this narrative. But not South East Asian countries.

“The Asean countries are clearly not comfortable with this ‘democracy versus autocracy’ narrative,” he says.

“The Asean countries know the geopolitical contest between the US and China is not over ideology. It is over power.

“And in this contest for power, they don’t want to take sides…[T]his Asean position is not very popular in Washington circles.”

This Europe-Asean divide was on display at the recent Raisina Dialogue, India’s premier geopolitical conference.

A report in the South China Morning Post said the possible escalation into war of tensions between China and Taiwan was a focal point of the three-day conference.

The story quoted former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt as saying the European response to a conflict over Taiwan would be highly co-ordinated with America.

But Asean would respond differently.

Lynn Kuok, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security at Singapore’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Southeast Asian countries had extensive economic links with China.

Hurting those links would hurt their “rice bowls”.

“Southeast Asia would prefer not to get involved at all,” Kuok said.

Note: Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, said in his opinion piece he had decided to write his memoirs.

South Korea security trumps Japan-bashing

South Korea has adopted a novel approach to resolving a dispute over reparations for Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II: it will pay the compensation through a fund created by Korean companies.

No Japanese companies are involved.
Japan had refused to obey a 2018 Korean Supreme Court ruling that Japanese companies were liable to pay damages for victims of forced labour.

The Korea Herald said the decision was based on Seoul’s ambition to move beyond regional rivalry and project global power.

But many Korean and Japanese newspapers reported the proposal sparked a backlash from wartime victims and their families.

The Korea Times said opponents called the plan a total defeat for Seoul at Tokyo’s hands.

In a commentary piece, The Korea Times said Japan had been transformed from a perpetrator of crimes against humanity under the former Moon Jae-in government to a partner that share universal values under the current Yoon Suk-yeol administration.

The writer, Sean O’Malley, professor of international studies at Busan’s Dongseo University, said the forced labour issue was merely one tree in a deep forest of mistrust between the two countries.

The South Korean public would not accept the plan.

North Korean provocations, however, were increasing and security co-operation between Japan and South Korea needed to be enhanced.

“The conservative Yoon administration rightly recognises that South Korea can no longer sacrifice national security for the sake of Japan-bashing,” O’Malley said.

On Thursday evening news media reported President Yoon would visit Japan in the coming week for talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The Japan Times said the meeting was expected to help mend ties that had been soured for years by the labour dispute.

LDCs need urgent financial help

Poor nations – or Least Developed Countries – have to cope with crippling debts flowing from the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, high food and fuel prices and financial crises.

The Straits Times and AlJazeera have reported UN chief Antonio Guterres as condemning rich countries and energy giants for throttling poor nations with predatory interest rates and crippling fuel prices.

AlJazeera said Guterres told the recent UN LDC summit in Qatar that wealthy nations should provide $US500bn a year to help countries trapped in vicious cycles that blocked their efforts to boost economies and improve health and education.

“You (LDCs) represent one in eight people on Earth,” Guterres said. “We are perfectly aware of the inequities created by our unfair global economic and financial system.”

The Straits Times reported UN Development Programme head Achim Steiner as saying urgent measures were needed to help 52 countries facing debt repayment problems that put some at risk of default.

This grouping included Argentina, Lebanon and Ukraine, along with 23 countries from sub-Sahara Africa, 10 from Latin America and the Caribbean and eight from East Asia and the Pacific.

Steiner said 25 countries were spending one-fifth of government revenues on debt-servicing. This was not sustainable.

Al Jazeera noted that no leaders from any of the world’s major economies attended the summit.

Neutral nations can help end Ukraine war

Here’s a term that might not be familiar to Australian readers: active non-alignment.

And here is another: coalition of the unwilling.

Both are being used to argue for neutral positions on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Jorge Heine, a former Chilean ambassador to China, India and South Africa, says in an article in The Hindu newspaper the world is on the verge of a second Cold War but developing nations do not want to take sides, to become the playthings of others.

He says a concept called active non-alignment has come to the fore. It was developed recently as a manifesto for Latin American countries to resist pressure from Washington and Beijing.

The concept involves sophisticated diplomacy that assesses issues on a case-by-case basis.

The reactions of the Global South to the Ukraine war shows active non-alignment is not limited to Latin America. “India plays a key role in it, having taken a clear stand of non-alignment in the war, despite its closer ties with the US,” Heine says.

The phrase “coalition of the unwilling” is a play on the phrase George W. Bush used to describe the countries that backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

John Gong, a professor at the University of Business and Economics in Beijing, says China takes a neutral position on the Ukraine war, promoting a peace settlement while trying to maintain normal trade relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Gong says Western sanctions will kill people in Russia and beyond – as Russia is a big exporter of food and fuel.

“The neutrality position… is on the side of peace and humanity,” he says. “It is time for the silent majority of the world to resist increasing pressure from the West and establishment a ‘coalition of the unwilling’ to stay out of the war.”

Without real change, apologies are just PR

Sorry, Elton John once told us, seemed to be the hardest word. Now, says M. Taufiqurrahman, editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, it is just too easy to say.

Already this year, Indonesians have received three apologies from senior government officials.

One was from a disgraced tax official; another was from the finance minister; and a third was from the CEO of Pertamina, the state energy company, concerning a fuel depot fire that killed 18 people. The statement used some of the wording of a previous apology.

“Government officials have certainly become more responsive in dealing with crises and it seems issuing an apology is now standard practice,” Taufiq said.

“Unless we see real reforms on the ground following a mea culpa from a public official, their apologies are nothing more than a publicity stunt.”

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