Hanging between a consciousness of not being able to stand still, while not breaking the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and the temptation to put all responsibility on the United States and the West.
This seems to be China’s position toward its press on the debate about the ramifications of the so-called Islamic State of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On the one hand then, China is an economic power that must assert its international role and defend its interests, possibly declining diplomatic action. On the other hand, it complains of double standards on Western newspapers when reporting attacks on Chinese territory.
“Only the Western victims of terrorism deserve compassion, not Chinese civilians who were allotted the same fate. This is a ridiculous and deafened attitude,” wrote the China Daily a few days after the Paris attacks last November, in describing what it considered the prejudices of Ursula Gauthier, correspondent of the French paper Nouvel Observateur, expelled from China for connecting the attacks in Xinjiang, a region inhabited by a Uighur Turkic Muslim population, with Beijing’s discriminatory policy toward them.
Two years ago, the Caliph denounced the People’s Republic as “a country that tramples on the rights of Muslims.” At the end of last year, the Caliphate’s “propaganda office” published instead a video in Mandarin with a far-reaching intent to recruit in the People’s Republic. Meanwhile, the nationalistic tabloid Global Times kept a campaign for months to seek further tightening on social networks, after analyzing ISIS’s communication strategy. “The fact that militants are expanding their influence through a Western invention,” it remarked sarcastically, “is not embarrassing and ironic.”
The turning point, however, happened last November: the assassination of Fan Jinghui, the first Chinese hostage executed by ISIS militants. The tragedy, according to Caixin, showed that China “is considered an enemy.” According to the magazine, the attacks in Xinjiang “which for China are comparable to those of ISIS.” It then concluded by explaining that the country was ready to participate in anti-terrorist operations. “The rhetoric and actions have to agree to its status as a world power.”
But the tormented commentators beyond the wall struggled for the last year to determine what should be done. Besides, “the negative impact of the Iraqi chaos for China is clear,” wrote the Nanfang Zhoumo, a weekly once among the most independent, now “normalized” by Beijing, which put the conflicts in the Middle East in terms of risks for Chinese trade and infrastructure development strategies along the Silk Road. For the newspaper, the withdrawal from Iraq and the shifting of the axis of U.S. interest to the Asia Pacific region was “irresponsible” because it triggered a “vicious circle impossible to control.”
These concepts reappear several times. For example, iFeng writes that the foundation for facing ISIS is the reconstruction of the balance in the region (hence also the support for the Assad government in Syria) and the need to reject the fight against terrorism intended as a “holy war.” All interspersed with a constant coverage of what is happening in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Africa, as well as the police operations in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.
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