Minitrue: Tight Control on Xi’s “Loose Clothing” Slip at G20

The following instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The names of the issuing bodies have been omitted to protect the sources.

Weibo, WeChat public accounts, blogs, forums, bulletin boards and other interactive forums, please filter and intercept content related to “tongshang kuannong [通商宽农],” and strictly delete comments, photos, videos, and related information. (September 4) [Chinese]

All websites must conduct 24-hour monitoring and manual cleaning of content related to the leader’s slip of the tongue over “tongshang kuannong [通商宽农]” during his speech. Do not use keyword filtering in the backend. Provide an updated report on the situation every two hours to your superiors. (September 5) [Chinese]

At Language Log, Victor Mair explains Xi’s “horrendous gaffe” at this weekend’s G20 summit in :

The Chairman should have read:

qīngguān yìdào tōngshāng kuānnóng 轻关易道通商宽农 (“reduce taxes and make roads easy [to travel on], facilitate commerce and be lenient to farmers”)

Instead, what came out is this:

qīngguān yìdào tōngshāng kuānyī 轻关易道通商宽衣 (“reduce taxes and make roads easy [to travel on], facilitate commerce and loosen clothing”)

Whether the text was mistyped on the script or teleprompter from which the Chairman was reading, or whether he misread nóng 农 for yī 衣, the result was gibberish. Even someone with a middle school education should not have made such a mistake.

Part of the reason this happened is that Chairman Xi, or his speechwriter(s), were trying to wax literary and show off his would-be erudition. […] [Source]

In the comments, Mair quoted a colleague on Xi’s mangled excerpt from the ancient historical text “Discourses of the States”:

It was Mao Zedong who set the fashion of using (or rather, manipulating) quotes from Chinese classics as proof of ethos in support of his arguments. Wen Jiabao reinvoked Mao’s rhetorical-argumentative subterfuge for the same purpose plus showing off his scholarship and creating a public self-image of Confucian official. Rhetorically speaking, citing classics as proof, in the case of CCP officials or leaders, is using ethics fallaciously in engaging political-ideological propaganda. [Source]

Past displays of Xi’s erudition have focused on his voracious reading, which often includes comprehensive literary surveys of whichever foreign country he happens to visit. Previous gaffes such as his unorthodox left-handed salute at last year’s World War Two anniversary military parade have also prompted both online mockery and heavy censorship. This time, Weibo searches for facilitate commerce and loosen clothing (通商宽衣) have been blocked. Among the many mocking Xi online was CDT cartoonist Badiucao, who suggested “I think this is probably what he meant”:

As South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan and Sidney Leng report, Xi’s slip-up was far from the only focus of censors’ attention:

China’s first lady Peng Liyuan took the limelight at the G20 summit’s welcoming banquet in Hangzhou on Sunday with a stunning qipao-style dress.

However, her fans were not able to flood social media with their admiring comments as they had been able to do in the past because of the heavy online censorship in force during the summit.

Sunday was also the most censored day on the mainland since August 2015, when two explosions took place in the port city of Tianjin, according to Weiboscope, a censorship index run by the University of Hong Kong.

About 18 posts were censored on Weibo per ten thousand posts published on Sunday, according to the index. Top censored words included “country”, “summit”, “airport” and “Hangzhou”.

[…] State media’s Weibo reports about the summit have largely been closed for comments, as can be seen from the Weibo accounts of the Xinhua news agency and state broadcaster CCTV. [Source]

Quartz’s Echo Huang Yinyin reported that authorities had forbidden reporting on U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments to CNN about China “violating international rules and norms, as we have seen in some cases in the South China Sea, or in some of their behaviors when it comes to economic policy”:

If you live in China, or are getting your news from China’s officials media outlets, though, you would have no idea that Obama expressed any criticism during his Sept. 3 meeting with Xi, or even that the CNN interview happened at all.

That’s because on Sept. 3, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, the government’s propaganda department, sent out an order forbidding any “reporting” or “reposting” of Obama’s “irresponsible remarks” during the CNN interview, and specifically of his remarks about the South China Sea, an editor from a Guangdong-based government-supervised media outlet, who received the order, said. [Source]

Obama’s rebuke and the bungled speech threaten to mar the summit’s value as a showcase of Xi as global statesman, which Cary Huang described at South China Morning Post:

Hosting the gathering of the world’s wealthiest nations in Hangzhou gave Xi a unique opportunity to project his personal image on the world stage as well as strengthen his position within the Communist Party ahead of a crucial congress to be held a year from now.

Analysts said Xi scored points politically at home and diplomatically abroad by chairing the most important gathering of world leaders in the country’s history.

[…] Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of international relations and director of Bucknell University’s China Institute, warned that Xi’s political and diplomatic gains during the summit would likely fuel rising nationalism at home.

[…] Analysts said that a high priority on Xi’s political agenda was to use the summit to strengthen his domestic political position before next year’s crucial party congress.

Brahm said the summit solidified Xi’s position as a global leader in the eyes of the Chinese public. “The strengthening of China’s position as a global investor and next in line to have a world reserve currency places Xi in an insurmountable position of political influence on the eve of this critical party congress,” he said. [Source]

Read more on the looming 19th Party Congress via CDT.

At The Washington Post, William Wan focused on one particular element of the image-crafting, highlighting its various precedents since Xi rose to power. Wan also explored China’s growing sense of entitlement to recognition as a global leader since the 2008 financial crisis in a separate report.

Late Sunday night, after hours of stilted bilateral meetings in which the U.S. and Chinese officials waded through their usual disagreements and hopes for cooperation, Chinese President invited President Obama for a midnight stroll. As they ambled through the dark night at a lakeside park — awkwardly making small talk for the handful of news cameras following them — Xi invited Obama to stop at a scenic pagoda and drink some tea.

[…] The Chinese government has carefully staged pictures of Xi eating buns at a Beijing restaurant and holding an umbrella in the rain with his pants rolled up to keep the cuffs dry, like a regular Joe (or Zhou).

But the pictures they’ve staged of him and Obama have played an especially important role.

After decades as a developing nation, China is now eager to flex its muscles and demand respect. So the image of China’s new leader alongside the leader of the free world — side-by-side, on equal footing, both at ease and confident in the potency of his power — is one that Chinese leaders have been eager to project. [Source]

Obama was not the Chinese leader’s only prop:

Xi’s stroll with Obama was one of several episodes in which Chinese efforts to control the presentation of the summit have clashed with foreign journalists’ expectations of access. Summit organizers cut the number of reporters allowed to follow the two presidents from six to three, and then to one, before finally agreeing to two. “That is our arrangement,” a Chinese official reportedly told an American one. “But your arrangement keeps changing,” the American replied.

Another incident took place as Obama arrived in Hangzhou, alongside the widely discussed absence of red-carpeted stairs for him to descend. From The New York Times’ Mark Landler:

As the reporters who traveled to the Group of 20 summit meeting with President Obama from Hawaii piled out and walked under the wing to record his arrival, we were abruptly met by a line of bright blue tape, held taut by security guards. In six years of covering the White House, I had never seen a foreign host prevent the news media from watching Mr. Obama disembark.

When a White House staff member protested to a Chinese security official that this was not normal protocol, the official shouted, “This is our country.”

[…] There were further surprises. At the West Lake State House, where Mr. Obama met President Xi Jinping, White House aides, protocol officers and Secret Service agents got into a series of shouting matches over how many Americans should be allowed into the building before Mr. Obama’s arrival. There were fears the confrontation would become physical.

[…] To some in Mr. Obama’s delegation, it was reminiscent of the rough treatment he received on his first trip to China, in 2009. Then the Chinese refused to broadcast on state television a town-hall-style meeting; packed the hall with Communist Party loyalists; and censored an interview he gave to a Chinese publication. At the time, many viewed the treatment as a metaphor for a rising power flexing its muscles with a young president from a superpower in decline. [Source]

A swiftly deleted tweet from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency described the scene at the airport as “classy as always.” President Obama, however, played it down, urging observers not to “over-crank the significance of it.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, meanwhile, accused foreign media of being “highly unprofessional as they fabricated news and added wild guesses to it without getting to the bottom of this issue. This would only consolidate the impression that some Western media are arrogant and big-headed.”

The Wall Street Journal’s James T. Areddy, Mark Magnier and Valentina Pop noted that arrangements for the media elsewhere, though lavish in many respects, did not include ready access to delegates:

One early frustration at G-20 risks denting the outreach: Security is so tight that press officers of some national delegations say they are having a hard time figuring out how to brief reporters about the proceedings.

Meetings shouldn’t be hard to arrange. The 10,000 square meter media center is just down a marble staircase from the primary meeting halls on the third floor of the new Hangzhou International Expo Center. But, as with so much in Hangzhou this week, a security cordon puts the staircase off limits to everyone.

“We actually tried to have briefings at [the media center], but because we don’t have the pass to go into the venue, we could only cancel those sessions:(,” the press officer of one Asian nation said by email, ending his note with a sad-face emoticon.

[…] One European government’s team trying to prepare for press conferences did a dry run on Friday, ahead of Sunday’s summit, and determined the only way their officials could get face-to-face with the media is to take shuttle buses, a spokeswoman said. The route requires two different buses—those for officials—to get away from the Expo Center, then two more, which the media can use, to get back inside, she said. That, she estimates, turns a five-minute walk downstairs into a troublesome journey of at least a half hour. [Source]

NGOs, the targets of increasingly tight regulation in China, have been kept even further at bay. From Joanna Chiu and Andreas Landwehr at Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

China either ignored or refused the requests of major international non-profit organizations to participate in the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou as observers, representatives of several such groups asserted Saturday.

They spoke to dpa on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their operations in China.

“I’ve been at the last three G20 summits but not this time. In those three years, we had up to around 40 places in the media centre and were able to provide comment to journalists,” a manager of an international advocacy group told dpa.

“Basically, there is no representation by civil society at this G20 summit,” a senior staff member of another major humanitarian group said. [Source]

At TIME, Hannah Beech questioned whether the G20 could really deliver on the Chinese government’s apparent hopes for it as a demonstration of Xi and China’s new global status, and reported on the tight controls imposed on the host city:

[…] I wondered how the last city to have hosted the G20 was transformed by its brush with global greatness. So on Sept. 2 in Hangzhou, I asked 30 passersby—the kind of iPhone-swiping, Costa Coffee-swigging business types who might be interested in the fate of the global economy—what they thought of the 2015 G20 summit host. It turned out that only one person (plus two G20 volunteers) knew that the last G20 confab had taken place in Turkey. No one knew that the city in question was Antalya, the resort town on the Mediterranean.

The results of my survey—albeit an unscientific sampling—raises a question: Why does the Chinese government care so much about hosting these kinds of events when they doesn’t necessarily translate to global glory? […]

[… F]or international visitors who want to visit the city’s most vaunted tourist attraction, the West Lake, with its pagodas and gardens, G20 is an inopportune time. Only people with special passes can now strolls its perimeter. Some of the tourists supposedly wandering around West Lake, another G20 volunteer explained, aren’t holiday-makers at all but security forces dressed in civilian clothes to “make normal people feel more comfortable.” Even a dream town needs a bit of make believe to turn itself into a paradise on earth. [Source]

South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan and Sidney Leng also reported on the tight controls, and on the few real tourists at the West Lake. (Other media including Reuters and the BBC reported obstructed efforts to report from around the city.) One commented that the tightness of the authorities’ grip projects exactly the opposite of the intended confidence:

[… Most tourists] have been told to stay away, but a small number of lucky ones were being allowed in at uncertain times during the day, as the authorities did not want to make the lake look completely empty, or “too quiet”, according to a local police official surnamed Fan.

Chen, a retiree from neighbouring Jiangsu province, managed to get close to the lake before the guards closed off the entrance at 4pm. As a frequent visitor to West Lake, Chen said he was amazed by how empty it was.

He said his family’s car had been stopped three times as it passed through security checks on the way to Hangzhou.

[…] However, the checks had made him feel less secure, he said. “The more you try to seal off places, the more it reflects a strong sense of insecurity,” Chen said. [Source]

CNBC’s Eunice Yoon similarly suggested that “the extreme security measures leave the impression of a country insecure with its standing rather than ready for the top job”:

[…] I opened the G-20 swag bag and was most excited about a card that would grant users unfettered access to the web. You know you have been in China a while when you get excited about accessing Google without a VPN.

That access, though, comes with a price: All journalists are assigned an individual—and traceable—login and password.

The intrusive monitoring is also offline. At some of the security checkpoints, police asked not only for my hotel name but the room number. My CNBC colleague Sri Jegarajah had an unsettling experience of his own: While going through security to the G-20 venue, he had his breath mints confiscated by police. Later, the same mints showed up on a table in his hotel room. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness that gives you chills.

China wants to persuade the world that its rise on the global stage is peaceful and harmonious.

Yet the image left here by its dealings with diplomats, staff and journalists is one of a country with an inferiority complex— an inconsistent and sometimes downright unpleasant police state unwilling to stick with prior arrangements. It’s a land of the officious official. [Source]

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.