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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Can China manipulate Western media?

August 25, 2009

By Jeremy and Jesse Veverka
August 24, 2009

"Propaganda" is a dirty word, associated with
authoritarian regimes that have no respect for
human rights and is relied on by such governments
to influence popular opinion. In the West, the
so-called "free press" has long relied on more
innocuous - but equally dangerous - ways to
distort or 'spin' the truth. As China develops
economically, a new paradigm is emerging: not
that of bumbling old-guard communists but rather
a sophisticated understanding of capitalism. We
are beginning to see the "spin" of Western media
is being pulled into the orbit of Beijing. We
explore this in our film "China: The Rebirth of an Empire."

When the Chinese hosted the 2008 Olympics in
Beijing, officials promised an improvement in
human rights and freedom of information. Instead,
when protests erupted in Tibet, they crushed them
with military force and sealed the region off. An
authoritarian move but also a violation of the
agreement Beijing had made with the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the games, and
the Olympic Charter. But, with billions of
dollars tied up in the games, the IOC turned a
blind eye. Once the opening ceremony began,
people associated China with prosperity. Chinese
leadership had achieved its objective: it
influenced Westerners by aligning the interests
of the West with the Chinese agenda.

Chinese authorities have been successful at
influencing policy makers in the West in other
ways as well. Take for example Xinjiang, a vast
province in Western China that is the homeland of
the Uyghur people, an ethnic and religious
minority, who, like the Tibetans, contest Chinese
rule of their land. After Sept. 11, 2001, the
Chinese lobbied the U.S. to list an group called
the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a
terrorist organization. The ETIM was supposedly
comprised of ethnic Uyghurs, and just like that,
the Uyghurs became associated with terrorism throughout the West.

The image of "terrorist" has been difficult for
the Uyghurs to shed. We conducted a phone
interview with Alim Seytoff, the general
secretary of the Uyghur American Association in
Washington, D.C. "Unlike Tibetans, Uyghurs are
Muslims. After 9/11, if you are Muslim and you
have a problem, usually everybody is suspicious of your struggle," he said.

According to Seytoff, the West has become less
vocal in its criticism of human rights abuses due
to the pressures of the economic downturn.
"Everybody needs to do business with China, and
many countries are borrowing money from China, so
of course they don't want to offend China by
taking a strong stand on human rights issues," Seytoff said.

The U.S. has borrowed upwards of $1 trillion from
China and we import about 2 percent of our gross
domestic product from China. How independent is
our media when we need to rely on the Chinese to
support our government and living standard?
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