‘Engagement’ with China
Complicity in peddling propaganda is far from dialogue
In sorting through the L.A. Times the other day, I came upon an eight-page supplement titled CHINA WATCH. The insert promises “ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.” Caveat Lector: this publication is a product of China Daily, a news vehicle of China’s Communist Party. Indeed, cards on the table, at the bottom of its first page there appears “Additional information is on file with the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.”
So what do I need to know about recent events in China? First, it seems, I need to know that all is well. Who could fail to be reassured by the headline “Trash put in proper place, and all cheer”? Worried about Tibet? Relax. The key fact is that “As a result of the local people and governments’ efforts in environmental protection, the Tibet autonomous region remains one of the most pristine lands in the world.”
Other comforting headlines were positively puckish. “Economies of scales” introduces an account of a Hezhe fishskin handicraft. An artisan representing the Hezhe, one of China’s smallest ethnic groups, tells us why “The price of a fishskin jacket is more than 10,000 yuan ($1,415).” And what about “Pandering to a wild style of life,” wherein we learn that a new panda recognition system makes it easy to monitor these lovable creatures and the golden monkey as well.
What I didn’t find in CHINA WATCH was any mention of the rank authoritarianism of China’s President Xi Jinping and his muscle flexing in the South China Sea. Neither was there any discussion of China’s policy of systemic racism directed at Tibetans and Uighurs, nor any note of worsening violations of religious freedom. But maybe the next time I check CHINA WATCH there will be a puff piece on the progress that comes with the Sinicization of the Catholic Church.
Now let’s return to the L.A. Times, the sentinel of progressives keen to press for the redress of wrongs both real and imagined. The Justice Department, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) reports that between November 2016 and April 2020 China Daily paid the L.A. Times $657,523 for printing costs. (Other U.S. papers, including the Chicago Tribune, profited as well.)
Editors at the L.A. Times contend that a policy of engagement with China is better than a new cold war. I agree. But what counts as engagement? And what counts as dialogue if engagement is another term for dialogue? There’s no engagement, there’s no dialogue, without truth-telling. Complicity in peddling propaganda is a far cry from truth-telling.
Someone who gets it right, in contrast, is Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Last week, at a hearing of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on “Religious Freedom in China,” he addressed the fate of Bishop James Su Zhimin of the Diocese of Baoding. The bishop has spent some 40 years in prison, and the Chinese government refuses to say where he is.
Smith’s “engagement” cut to the chase. “Today, I again join many, including the Bishop’s relatives, and ask President Xi Jinping: where is Bishop Su? What have you done in secret to this extraordinary man of God?” Smith had another question as well: “Why does a powerful dictatorship fear peaceful men and women of faith and virtue?”
Authentic dialogue will press for an answer to this question.
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