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Unmasking China’s strategy on COVID-19

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recently released its report: “The COVID-19 Story: Unmasking China’s Global Strategy.” The report’s cover image shows Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a protective face mask over his eyes and not over his nose and mouth where the mask should be. “Unmasking” is the keyword, because IFJ has uncovered what were heretofore unnoticed if not ignored.

IFJ begins by saying that a second global survey of IFJ’s affiliate unions at the conclusion of 2020 shows “that China has used the COVID-19 pandemic to boost its image in global media coverage… As the pandemic started to spread, Beijing used its media infrastructure globally to seed positive narratives about China in national media, as well as mobilizing more novel tactics such as disinformation.”

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IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists. It represents 600,000 media professionals from 187 trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries including the Philippines. Founded in 1926, IFJ speaks for journalists within the United Nations system and within the international trade union movement.

IFJ discovered “an activation of the existing media infrastructure China has put in place globally. This includes training programs and sponsored trips for global journalists, content sharing agreements feeding state-sponsored messages into the global news ecosystems, memoranda of understanding with global journalism unions, and increasing ownership of publishing platforms.”

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And here’s more. “Beijing seems to be stepping up its news offerings, providing domestic and international content tailored for each country in non-Anglophone languages.” It would be interesting to find out where the Philippines is in this global strategy. Oh, but it should be easy to detect, what with the Philippines’ sitting President already won over and so enamored with China’s largesse in the form of Sinovac vaccines and other lollipops while China’s other hand suctions off both the hidden and unhidden wealth in the West Philippine Sea.

All that while, IFJ says, “Beijing has weaponized foreign journalists’ visas, forcing resident journalists out of China. The vacuum in coverages is increasingly being filled by state-approved content, which is sometimes offered for free, to these countries.”

IFJ cites three case studies: Serbia, Italy, and Tunisia. Like President Duterte, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić considers China as “a friend advocate and financial savior,” having had China as supporter in its claim over Kosovo during the NATO bombings of 1999. The COVID-19 pandemic strengthened China’s hold on Serbia. China is now helping Serbia develop its digital infrastructure. It has invested in data centers and smart surveillance with the aid of Huawei, a Chinese company.

This happened in Italy: “Italy, as one of the earliest victims of the COVID-19 outbreak, was the target of an aggressive Chinese disinformation campaign in 2020. Videos circulating on social media purported to show

Italians on their balconies applauding Chinese COVID aid as the Chinese national anthem was being sung.” Italian journalists reported an “intense courtship.” Shameless, I must say.

In Tunisia, China was being projected as “the savior of Tunisia” if not the world’s. Documentaries on China were shown around the country. IFJ cites how China made its foothold. One journalist remarked: “Chinese people think that they are the center of the universe and see their country as an empire.”

But China also soft-pedals its intrusion through its cultural exports. Sorry, but Korean telenovelas, pop music, and kimchi have already gained a strong foothold hereabouts. I do not see China easing out South Korea in those departments. Not after “Crash Landing On You.” Chinese food we’ve always had for centuries.

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IFJ notes an international pushback. Some respondents have reported the banning of Chinese-owned apps. In Nepal and India, Chinese digital payments apps were either banned or outlawed. IFJ reports that in the Philippines, TikTok has been banned by some companies during working hours. Oh, really?

China’s state-owned broadcast company CGTN is experiencing a pushback. “CGTN now finds itself facing similar complaints across the world following a campaign mounted by an NGO, Safeguard Defenders, targeting the broadcaster’s decision to air coerced confessions from detainees. Germany immediately followed suit, with state regulators taking CGTN off the air, whilst in Australia, SBS temporarily suspended its daily coverage of CGTN” because of violation of broadcasting law.

There’s so much more than could be shared in this space. Remember the saying: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” In Latin, “Praemonitus, praemunitus.” Loosely, in Filipino, huwag pauto.

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TAGS: China’s COVID-19 strategy, Human Face, IFJ, International Federation of Journalists, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
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