Money can’t buy charm

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Money can’t buy charm

A few days ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. The articles on the front page were all about President Xi Jinping. There were 12 articles about Xi’s attendance at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, about whom Xi met with and how Xi celebrated the publications of certain magazines and books. The newspaper was full of news about Xi, who may be the first Chinese leader since Mao Zedong to enjoy such concentrated power.

People’s Daily articles on the Chinese leader are the standard and model of China’s propaganda spread on conventional media such as newspapers, broadcasting and magazines but also on online outlets and social media. These stories are republished without any revision or editing. In a dynamic country where more than 16 trillion won ($14 billion) worth of goods are sold online every day, this is beyond China’s unique characteristics and special circumstances.

To break the “media monopoly by the West,” China is investing a lot of money and human resources into official media such as Xinhua News Agency and CCTV. It’s a soft power strategy to create international opinion favorable toward China. English broadcasting is on 24 hours, and anchors and reporters have been recruited from the United States and Europe. China spends nearly $10 billion annually on overseas propaganda (“China’s Soft-Power Push” by David Shambaugh in Foreign Affairs, July-August 2015).

But in reality, the astronomical investment doesn’t pay off. The most notable case of failure was the military parade commemorating the victory of World War II. Major Western countries that had fought the war together were not in attendance, and only China and Russia were backing each other.

Perhaps China thought it needed to work harder. China and Russia have agreed to set up a joint news agency next year. They are “challenging the Western influence.” While Beijing seems to believe that quantitative expansion will incur qualitative changes, it seems quite irrational to the eyes that have become accustomed to free media. Chinese media is hardly charming when it is repackaging the image without substantial changes. After all, money can’t buy charm.

Regardless of how successful the China-Russia joint news agency will be, propagating views favorable to them will be a diplomatic challenge for Korea. The event of the leaders of Korea, China and Russia standing atop Tiananmen Gate side by side would be processed to suit Russia and China’s taste and circulated more extensively than now. When it is not an easy task to maintain a balance to prevent our strategic partnership with China from being exaggerated, we now have to worry about the unprecedented flood of Chinese-style news.

The author is a deputy political news editor at JTBC.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 10, Page 34

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