“Public opinion warfare to smear military commentators”: my plot to contain China exposed

China.com - Are PLA hawks just propaganda?

China.com special topic: Are the PLA’s hawkish statements just propaganda?

In my first foray into mainland China’s propaganda system since winning a “second-class prize” in a television language competition heavily rigged in my favour, the previous post (written for the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief) was picked up by mainland online media on Tuesday, and run under headlines including:

I apologize in advance for the infelicitousness of this post, but i am a student and this is a blog, so can’t take these things too seriously 😉

My personal favourite headline was:

America: Dai Xu more provocative than Luo Yuan, gets some kind of authorization!‘ (China.com). 

Since i now speak for “America” (or is it that i am America?), it is high time i actually went there.

Yes, please stop being stingy Mr Obama, send your 747 to come get me from the edge of the Australian outback so that i can finally become acquainted with the country for whom i’m fighting to contain China. Almost unbelievably, I am not really exaggerating. On a special issue page titled, ‘Are the PLA’s hawkish statements just propaganda?‘, a pseudonymous China.com “editor” commented that:

If these [PLA] “hawkish” remarks really are a kind of public opinion warfare, then isn’t this American think tank researcher’s “red and white masks” revelation also a kind of public opinion warfare action to smear military commentators?

So not only am i America, i’m a US public opinion warfare soldier, equivalent to Luo Yuan and Dai Xu? Well, i can only say i’m honoured, truly honoured. Wait, sorry, honored.

Dai Xu himself weighed in on Weibo, first by pointing out a rather amusing contrast between the Sina and Sohu news portals’ headlines:

The same article, and Sina and Sohu’s editors’ headlines are rather different. Sina: U.S. media examine PLA hawkish faction: Luo, Dai etc. may have high-level support. Sohu: High-ranking military officers like Zhang Zhaozhong, Luo Yuan’s useless words, they have no operational authority.

Later he made an interesting comment in reply to a netizen who had pointed out that Li Dazhao and Lu Xun showed that one does not need operational military authority to make a difference:

It’s the internet era, and America also has “sages” with old thinking.

Thanks, Colonel Dai! If only by implication, this raises my argument’s biggest weakness: it may not be the simplest explanation for the observed phenomena. A simpler explanation for hawkish military statements would be that times have changed, military academics now enjoy greater freedom of speech, and China’s foreign policy discourse is much more pluralized.

However, given that Dai has stated that he carries out propaganda work in accordance with military discipline, and has the title of military External Propaganda Expert, if he wants his public statements to be taken as genuine PLA thinking, he should perhaps explain some criteria by which to evaluate which is which. Otherwise it remains a logical starting point to assume all his public statements are propaganda.

This episode was a great demonstration of the agenda-setting power of Huanqiu Wang, the Global Times’ website. By providing one partial translation, they introduced the article into most of the major mainland news portals, and onto Weibo. If i were making a public opinion warfare attack on China, then i guess i must have been in cahoots with Chinese traitors at the Global Times.

More seriously, this too represents a challenge to my central claim, for if it were true, then wouldn’t the central government want to suppress it? It was placed in Huanqiu’s military affairs sub-section, rather than the main news section, where censorship would be tighter. The sensational headlines suggest it was seen as good material with which to provoke the PRC internet’s military enthusiasts. Or perhaps some liberal-leaning professional journalists working there actually agreed with the article’s premise. Alternatively, it could have been shepherded into print by the hawks’ domestic opponents. But maybe it just means my claim is so far off the mark that the CCP’s censors see it as nothing to worry about — let me know what you think in the comments or by email.

Many of the comment threads i looked at contained the odd spectacle of Chinese military enthusiasts clinging rather zealously to the notion of divisions in the regime. Here are the top comments from Sina’s 13,000-participant, 1000-comment thread:

Zhejiang/Zhousan; Luo Yuan, Dai Xu etc. have the support of 1.3 billion Chinese people!!! [1319 supports]

Hebei/Cangzhou: Many high-level military are corrupted, there are only a few courageous, red-blooded ones left and they are being suppressed, if this goes on the country will be lost! [1144]

Guizhou/Guiyang: Some officials are like Qin Hui of the Song Dynasty, only doing things that bring disaster on the country and people. [978]

Guangdong/Guangzhou: The hawkish faction are courageous, effective weapons, without them will we be able to win a war? Support [791]

Hainan/Haikou: They have the people’s support. They also have the people’s authorization. [777]

Henan/Zhengzhou: I’ll say the truth, Dai Xu is extremely cool-headed, he can predict what China’s surrounding environment will be like in 5 years’ time, he hits the nail on the head, the famous C-Shaped Encirclement is a very good article, it’s just that it has not been taken seriously by the highest levels of the military because they fear for their self-respect. Also, Zhang Zhaozhong is an artist, good at makeup […] [608]

Reader responses to Huanqiu’s original summary translation also reflected, as i’ve previously discussed, Chinese military enthusiasts’ apparent desire to maintain belief that there really is a hawkish faction protecting their country from the American menace:

Guangxi/Wuzhou: [The hawkish statements] are a kind of spiritual food. [0]

Shanxi/Taiyuan: The Americans are extremely fearful of this kind of propaganda. Because this kind of propaganda will cancel out the effects of the Americans’ massive propaganda warfare efforts. [8]

Canada: Our China needs this kind of iron-boned soldier to protect our home and make sure the shame of more than 100 years ago is not allowed to return to our land. [15]

Hubei/Wuhan: Americans always make a pointless fuss over whatever we say and do, the despicable thing is there is ways a bunch of [Chinese] idiots who start raising hackles with them, I wouldn’t rule out them being US running dogs or five-cent party, be sure to be vigilant! [17]

Shanxi/Xi’an: Military men should be like General Luo [17]

Hubei/Wuhan: Those who have not heard Luo Yuan’s arguments are not qualified to comment. “Only when one dares to go to war can one talk about peace”, laowai will never understand the philosophical significance of this sentence, they can only take it literally and quote it out of context, as a Chinese military strategist, General Luo has put forward many constructive suggestions, like the establishment of Sansha City, this is a wise and farsighted, fierce but humble strategist. He is definitely not a so-called ‘pro-war element’, the laowai is simply talking nonsense. [18]

Presumably westerners must also be incapable of understanding the philosophical significance of that expression from ancient Latin, “if you want peace, prepare for war”. The latter reader didn’t seem to have read the article either, since the whole point was that the hawks’ pro-war statements shouldn’t be taken literally.

One Huanqiu reader denounced the hawks as “militarists [19 supports]”, and another suggested they were “really only obeying their masters’ commands, fooling the laobaixing [15 supports]”. Both of those received some support but were soon being roundly denounced as race traitors. The latter was told to “fuck off to NetEase, lots of Japanese dogs there, you’ll have company [52 supports]”.

Indeed, the race traitors of Netease struck a predictably different tone from the military enthusiasts. Top comments from 13,000+ participants:

Zhejiang/Hangzhou: American empire please relax, this carefully organized show is for deceiving us fart-people (P民) and giving those wumao [pro-government] some excitement! [2550 supports]

Jiangxi/Nanchang: They’ve been seen through, how awkward~~~ [2350]

Macao: I am always thinking about war – Adolf Hitler [1075]

6 Comments on ““Public opinion warfare to smear military commentators”: my plot to contain China exposed”

  1. σ1 says:

    Wow, massive respect. Academics should be troublemakers! I once got in trouble with Abe’s office but that was in between his time as PM, so this is way cooler. I think this is a good example of how the “China threat” theory has more avid consumers in China than it does elsewhere.

  2. dylanjones says:

    Have you noticed that the Ma Zhongcheng who wrote the inflammatory 7 August article in People’s Daily regarding constitutionalism (and firmly opposing it) is affiliated with the shadowy Hainan Institute for Maritime Security & Cooperation?

  3. […] “Public opinion warfare to smear military commentators”: my plot to contain China e… → […]

  4. […] Not Policy’ explanation — at least in the case of this article. My argument was not, as some angry military enthusiasts assumed, that Dai Xu simply doesn’t mean what he says (the only way to know for sure would be to […]

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