Up Against the Great Wall of China

Analysis of President Obama’s China visit, and the media coverage it received, continues. Howard French, former New York Times Shanghai bureau chief, tells Columbia Journalism Review:

“The piece that really relates directly to China, I think, and the signals I get from this coverage are equally distressing. The unstated element for me in all of this coverage of Obama’s visit is a kind of hysterical insecurity in the American mind about the possibility—or reality, depending on how you look at it—of American decline. China being the most obvious and immediate symbol of American vulnerability and decline. You put these two things together, the hysterical insta-pundit on the one hand and the hysterical anxiety on the other hand, you end up with this kind of coverage that says essentially that Obama goes to China and doesn’t get instant, public, overt gratification on issues A through Zed and therefore it was a failed trip, or we’re losing ground to China or we have no more standing or we have no more clout or the Chinese moment is upon us—any number of variations on this decline-related theme.

“A great irony of this, and I’m making generalizations about the coverage, but one great irony is that the fact the Chinese had to pack an audience in Shanghai with Communist party youth and people who were trained to ask very anodyne questions or to ask very obvious political questions. You can look at this on the one hand as a sign of American lack of influence with China, as many people were quick to do, or you can look at it on the other hand as a sign of, ‘Hey we’re talking about China like the next great thing and they’re so insecure they can’t even allow a Q and A with the president?’ That to me is a more interesting interpretation.

See also reports on the “Manufactured Failures” 1-5 of Obama’s trip , from James Fallows at The Atlantic.

For the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut writes:

Elaborately choreographed spectacles like last year’s Olympic Games, the October 1 Military Parade and this week’s Obama visit are part of the fabric of Chinese politics.

“Whereas people may be galled by the nature of party rule or government misrule in their immediate lives, these highly codified rituals broadcast via the electronic and print media reinforce the sense that China is a rich and powerful nation, one that has realised its national mission,” says Barmé.

Of course, not all Chinese were impressed by their “ritual-state” going to extraordinary lengths to prevent Obama from engaging freely with the Chinese public. To many, particularly among the internet-savvy youth, the contrast between the Chinese state’s manifest insecurity and Obama’s natural confidence could not have been more instructive.

“They put a condom on the President of the United States,” wrote Wang Yukun at Sina, a popular website.


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