Correction: This article has been expanded to include several paragraphs that were inadvertently left out in the initial editing process.
Amid this month’s Belt and Road Forum, Chinese state actors trumpeted a series of new media initiatives to highlight China and its engagement with the world. The variety of initiatives shows just how much effort China has invested in building channels for media cooperation with other countries. But cooperation in this domain is often a buzzword that conceals the reality of unidirectional partnerships that produce Chinese-dominated narratives.
Here are all of the items that relate to news and media on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ “List of Multilateral Cooperation Deliverables of the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation”:
IV. Deliverables of Non-government Cooperation Platforms
- […] 40. The 2nd Silk Road Global News Awards (launched by the Belt and Road News Network)
- 41. Joint Initiative of China Media Group (CMG) and Media of Belt and Road Partner Countries for Promoting Mutual Learning of Civilizations (launched by CMG and over 40 media from Belt and Road partner countries)
- 42. Middle East Media Alliance (launched by CMG and 15 media from 8 Middle East countries)
- 43. Annual Work Report of the Belt and Road Media Community (issued at the Belt and Road Media Community Summit Forum)
- 44. Declaration of Joint Action by Belt and Road Media Organizations (launched at the Global Video Media Forum)
[…] V. International Conferences in 2023 and 2024
- […] 63. Media Cooperation Forum on Belt and Road
- […] 87. The 3rd Council Meeting of Belt and Road News Network
- 88. 2024 Belt and Road Media Community Summit Forum [Source]
On October 12, in the lead-up to the Belt and Road Forum, Beijing hosted the 11th Global Visual Media Forum. The event attracted 140 representatives from 108 international media organizations and major media outlets from 63 countries. The goal was to strengthen media cooperation and “promote a new international media and opinion landscape,” in the words of Shen Haixiong, chairman and editor-in-chief of China Media Group (CMG), a grouping of Chinese state-media outlets. The main outcome of the event was a Declaration of Joint Action by Belt and Road Media Organizations. The declaration includes a commitment by its signatories to “promote the sharing of media resources, experience, and technology” and “tell the story of the Silk Road together.”
Two days later, CMG unveiled the China-Africa Media Action initiative. Shen Haixiong gave a speech in which he said that the purpose of the initiative is to “deepen exchanges and cooperation between media, jointly plan, produce, broadcast documentaries, TV magazines and other multimedia content, strengthen cooperation in the production and broadcast of programs on the theme of ‘Belt and Road.’” Vestine Nahimana, president of the National Media Council of Burundi, added that it will entail an “exchange of programs and know-how” between China and African media. At least 50 African media organizations have expressed their support for the initiative. News stories of the initiative’s launch, copied from English-language state-media news channel CGTN, were featured in outlets from Algeria, Niger, and Burundi, and from the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB).
That same week, the Ghana News Agency announced a new partnership with the Chinese embassy in Ghana. The partnership focuses on “information dissemination, enhancing cultural exchanges and fostering diplomatic ties between China and Ghana,” with the support of Xinhua. It was brokered by Liu Mingzhao, the embassy’s Director of Political Affairs, suggesting the purpose is more political than media-related. Since then, GNA has carried numerous pieces from the People’s Daily, Xinhua, CGTN columnists, and local staff, all of which praise China or the BRI.
One of the more amusing initiatives presented this month was a multilingual biographical podcast series about Xi Jinping. Titled “Stories of Xi Jinping,” this 12-part CGTN series was launched globally at a ceremony in Frankfurt, Germany on October 18 (though it was initially released in May). The podcast was published in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian versions, and CGTN claims that it has been published on eight podcast platforms and on 80 mainstream media platforms in 15 countries. CGTN wrote that the podcast would allow the world to better understand China and its “helmsman,” Xi Jinping:
Chinese Ambassador to Germany Wu Ken said at the launching ceremony that the podcast offers a broad and alternative perspective for the world to gain a more comprehensive understanding of China, develop a more objective view of China, and arrive at a more rational reading of China.
[…] Chinese Consul General in Frankfurt Huang Yiyang said the podcast will provide the European public with a gateway to understand China’s navigator and helmsman. And it will also open a “window of thought” for European audiences to gain a better understanding of China, the CPC, and the journey of Chinese modernization. “Through ‘Stories of Xi Jinping,’ we can feel the spirit, foresight and charisma of a leader who has dedicated his life to public service, and also gain a deeper understanding of his vision, his thoughts and his people-centered philosophy,” Huang said. [Source]
None of the twelve 15-minute episodes contains even the slightest bit of criticism of Xi. Instead, a host narrates a timeline of Xi’s life in hagiographic detail, interspersed with upbeat, soaring music, clips of Xi’s speeches, and dramatic reenactments of conversations that Xi ostensibly had with locals. Xi is portrayed as a humble, selfless, and visionary leader. All of the episode titles are in quotes that appear to be attributed to Xi. Episode 5, for example: “Put aside my own well-being for the good of my people.”
Episode 9 is titled: “People’s trust is my greatest source of strength.” In this episode, the narrator states, “Xi Jinping is a trustworthy friend of the people who not only protects lives during emergencies, but also cares about the people’s basic needs” (5:16). He continues, “When Xi said he could hardly express how reluctant he was to leave Zhejiang, the same emotions could be read on the faces of local officials and residents. Their reluctance to say goodbye and genuine emotions were both touching and heartfelt” (11:57). He concludes: “[Xi’s] remarks resonate with the Chinese people […and his] genuine devotion has won him people’s trust and support” (13:01).
In Episode 11, “Regard myself as an ordinary man,” the narrator lauds Xi’s humility: “Xi Jinping grew into a hard-working and down-to-Earth person with strict self-discipline” (3:13). “Xi Jinping’s lifestyle turned out to be even thriftier and simpler than” that of rustic country folk (5:55). He “never sought privileges” (6:52). The narrator continues heaping fulsome praise: “Xi Jinping said that being honest and upright is the most important virtue of government officials who must abide by the code of honesty and self discipline. He has lived by the principle of ‘be honest as a person, be clean in one’s conduct’ since his youth. He’s the best example of a man of integrity who works for the interest of the public” (7:53). “Xi Jinping said that serving as a government official and making a fortune are two separate paths. If one decides to assume public office, he must stop eyeing for extraordinary wealth.” (11:52) “Over the years, Xi Jinping has become a role model who honors simplicity and frugality in life and diligence at work” (13:55). There is no mention of the fact that Xi’s family once held hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore tax havens and other assets.
“Stories of Xi Jinping” appears to be the Chinese state-media’s response to The Economist’s “The Prince,” an acclaimed 8-part podcast series about Xi by Sue-Lin Wong. “The Prince” won an Excellence in Global Audio Reporting award from the Society of Publishers in Asia. So far, CGTN’s podcast has five stars on Apple Podcasts, out of only two ratings. The penultimate episode notes that this is only season one.