This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Police violence against African-Americans. Poverty in the United Kingdom. Widespread pollution. An oligarchy controls the U.S. government.
In recent weeks, China’s state media have been pumping out a slew of negative news reports about the United States and Europe – even as many middle-class and wealthy Chinese flee the country.
A June 24 video feature on U.S. politics by state news agency Xinhua in English warned: “The rich have power, while the poor have weak rights.”
“Under the veneer of American democracy, it’s actually the rich who rule the country,” the report said. “Behind the mask of one person one vote is actually one dollar, one vote.”
It said Abraham Lincoln’s promise of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” had fallen into the hands of an oligarchy. “U.S. elections have become a fig leaf for capitalists to exercise power,” the report said.
Across the Atlantic, one in seven British people went hungry in 2022 due to lack of money to buy food, state news agency Xinhua reported on June 29, citing a report from the Trussell Foundation.
“Government figures estimate that British households are in the midst of the two-year decline in living standards that has been the biggest since comparable records began in the 1950s,” the report said. It was widely picked up by mainland Chinese news sites and bloggers, with photos of restrictions on the sale of bell peppers at a Manchester supermarket.
‘It’s not Mars’
While China’s state media — which is registered under legislation governing the agents and representatives of foreign governments in the United States — has long been subject to stringent political controls on what it can publish at home, Xinhua and other overseas organizations have much freer rein when reporting from foreign countries.
And there is a stark variation in the type of language state media use when reporting on bad news — depending where it’s happening.
A keyword search for “wildfires” on the Global Times website in English on July 12 turned up around a dozen stories using negative language like “worst ever,” “losing face” and “rampant wildfires” to describe the fires and air pollution in the United States, Canada and further afield, while around five use more neutral language about global climate change.
“It’s not Mars, it’s the U.S.!” begins one article, with a picture of New York city enveloped in orange haze.
The language contrasts with last year’s coverage of wildfires outside Chongqing, which use language like ‘vanquished’ and ‘heroes’ and ‘all flames put out’ to portray the heroic struggle of the firefighters. The same search on the China Daily website yields similar results.
Yet coverage of Canadian wildfires from 2009 offers a much more balanced picture, with two using heroic language about firefighting efforts and two focusing on evacuations and damage.
While is is unclear whether the apparent flurry of bad news out of the West is deliberate, the grim and sometimes downright snarky coverage comes amid news of the “run” movement, a steady flow of Chinese people leaving the country who are worried about their economic future, tired of the restrictions in daily life and disenchanted with their leaders and political system.
Some desperate Chinese are trekking through the jungles of Latin America to get to Mexico, where they cross into the United States and apply for political asylum.
Meanwhile, a June 17 report from state broadcaster CCTV focused on police violence against Black people in the United States.
“Three years after the death of George Floyd, violent law enforcement in the US police system is still widespread,” the headline reads, referring to a recent Department of Justice investigation into racism in the police force.
“Violent law enforcement exists widely in the American police system,” the report said. “The reality is that a large number of social problems in the United States have become bargaining chips for politicians from both parties to compete for political interests.”
A day earlier, the China Daily reported on a court ruling that two police officers in Oklahoma, who are facing manslaughter charges for the 2021 killing of Quadry Sanders, an African-American, were unjustifiably terminated and must be reinstated.
“The deceased’s mother filed a lawsuit, but the local police and the government denied any wrongdoing by the officers,” the report said.
In a recent commentary, the Global Times accused U.S. media of using “this ‘losing-face’ moment to smear China for its pollution in the past, which prompted Chinese netizens to fight back with pictures of clear-sky Chinese metropolises, advising the U.S. to learn from China’s great achievements in improving air quality in the past years.”
The overseas Chinese news service Qiaobao took up the police violence and racism theme with its reporting of the French riots over the killing of Nahel Merzouk, a teenager of North African descent.
“The riots in many places caused by the French police shooting and killing teenagers are still continuing, and have attracted a lot of attention,” the paper wrote, drawing a parallel with the killing of George Floyd.