China has dismissed Internet gossip that its first photo of the moon taken from a lunar orbiter might have been plagiarised from NASA, local media said on Monday.
The country launched its first lunar probe, the Chang’e 1, in October and released a photo featuring a patch of grey moon surface splotched with craters last week, hailing the mission as a “complete success”.
But some Chinese Internet users have questioned its originality after comparing it with an almost identical lunar image from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2005. [Full Text]
[Image source: Chinadaily.cn.com]
Read also: Shooting for the Truth in China by Chua Chin Hon of Straight Times:
Two recent photographs – one taken in outer space and the other in the wilderness of north-western China – tell a fascinating tale of Beijing’s impressive rise as a global power and where it still falls short.
The first is a black-and white photo of the lunar landscape that was beamed back by the country’s first moon orbiter, evidence that China has yet again narrowed the technological gap with established space powers such as the United States and Russia.
When he unveiled the photograph at an official ceremony on Monday, Premier Wen Jiabao said in a speech that the image was “a mark of the absolute success of our nation’s first lunar exploration program, making our country one of the few deep space-faring nations in the world”.
… Back on Earth, however, China continues to struggle with a distinctly human problem: Credibility, or more precisely, the woeful lack of it.
For the past two months, Chinese commentators and vocal Internet users have been bemoaning the government’s “credibility crisis” yet again, mostly due to a colour photograph that has sparked a fiasco which has come to be dubbed “Tiger-gate”, a reference to the Watergate scandal that brought down then US President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.
“Tiger-gate” is much less dramatic and is unlikely to claim any major political scalp. But it nonetheless goes to the heart of the credibility problem that returns to haunt China ever so often.
… So, what has one dodgy photo to do with China’s rise? Plenty, if you consider the conduct of Chinese officialdom up to this point and its implications.
First, news of the “discovery” of the South China tiger was announced officially by Shaanxi’s forestry department.
When bombarded by doubts about its authenticity, the officials wheeled out experts and colleagues from other departments to support their initial claim instead of calling for an independent investigation.
More troubling, central government agencies such as the State Forestry Administration declined to step in to set the record straight in what was fast becoming a national embarrassment.
Instead, officials chose to hide behind comments such as “the authenticity of the photo is unimportant, what is important is the protection of South China tigers”.
Put bluntly, how much faith should anyone put into the public comments of Chinese officials when they cannot even settle a raging dispute over a dodgy photo of an elusive tiger?
The central government in Beijing may make all the policies, but their eventual success depends on whether local governments in places such as Shaanxi carry them out honestly.
Should the world be sceptical when, in future, China announces a stunning success in reversing the country’s environmental problems? Or can the assurances of Chinese officials be trusted if a major outbreak of bird flu or SARS happens again?
These doubts are not new. In fact, they resurface every time China is embroiled in a fresh scandal, be it over food or product safety, or a new viral outbreak.
To be fair, Beijing has tried hard to address these issues and introduce some degree of transparency in the way information is released to the public, such as by appointing designated government spokesmen and organising routine press briefings. Sadly, the “Tiger-gate” fiasco suggests that superficial measures go only so far.
The implications are not lost on newspapers such as the Southern Metropolitan Daily, which has published a series of hard-hitting editorials on the subject.
In its latest editorial on Tuesday, the newspaper lamented: “Following the recent twists and turns, the dispute over the authenticity of the South China tiger photo has turned into a sharp question on the government’s credibility.
“And we sadly wonder how this society can be sustained, given that it no longer has the courage and capacity to dig out the truth, and instead relies on vows and curses (as guarantees of authenticity).” Many netizens are coming up with humorous spoofs of the infamous “Tiger-gate” photo.
One particularly sarcastic version features two separate photos of a tiger and the moon spliced together with a caption that reads: “China’s lunar orbiter has discovered the South China tiger on the Moon.”