In phone calls to foreign leaders, headline articles in state media, and special breakout website sections, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has launched a diplomatic and media counterattack to the Western strikes on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The CCP says the military action is a geopolitical power play that violates sovereignty, and must be immediately stopped. Experts in the West see in this latest burst of activity a continuation of the CCP’s attempts to discredit the uprisings occurring in the Middle East and an attempt to protect China’s sizeable economic stake in Libya.
A late-breaking release from Xinhua on early Friday morning says that Yang Jiechi, the Foreign Minister, called German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and asked “all involved parties to immediately cease fire.” Yang was “deeply concerned” with the civilian casualties, the note said.
Xinhua, and other official media outlets, like People’s Daily, have been emphasizing the problems they say are brought by resisting Gadhafi’s rule.
“The Chinese government is moving into its typical holier-than-thou stance,” says Richard Fisher, senior fellow on Asian Military Affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “If Libya goes belly up, and especially if some kind of pluralistic direction emerges from all this, then that’s a major disaster for the Party,” Fisher said in an interview over the phone.
It would become a further example of democracy via popular revolt, and along with the others, show, “If the Chinese people really don’t want to live with the Party, then with enough force they can get rid of it too,” he said.
People’s Daily said that the recent color revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East have been nothing but bad news. Rather than being uprisings against a dictatorship, they were “political instability and social disruptions.”
The article concludes that the Chinese people should treasure their current “harmony and stability,” according to a translation provided by Chinascope. “Every one of us should do our utmost, achieve more development under this stability, and continuously reap happy fruits during our development.”
But these claims, including those about concern for civilian lives, are false, says Zhang Kaichen, a former propaganda official from Shenyang, China, who defected and now lives in New York; he says he knows how these campaigns work from the inside.
“It’s deeply hypocritical,” Zhang said in a telephone interview. “When Gadhafi was using planes and bombs to attack his country’s people, the Party didn’t make a noise.” But when the West intervenes with force against a dictator, the regime reacts, he says.
“Can they say ‘we’re just a dictatorship and we support dictators?’ No. So they make up this other nonsense about concern for life,” Zhang says.
“They’re extremely scared about these North African protests. They want the dictators to massacre people and crush the protests, to show the Chinese what happens when you protest,” he said. “They know this is the fate that they may face,” he said, referring to mass protests.
And at that time the Communist Party won’t want the West intervening on the side of the Chinese people, Zhang said, adding that the points highlighted in their media reports reflect this.
The headline for a Xinhua piece that includes 28 pages of photos, said, “Western Countries Continue Bombing Tripoli, World Community’s Anti-War Voices Increase Every Day.”
A key point made repeatedly in the state media reports is that the bombing was conducted after the Libyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moussa Koussa had declared a ceasefire. However, these reports do not mention that pro-Gadhafi forces continued fighting against the rebels.
An editorial in Xinhua condemned the air strikes. “Conflicts should be resolved through peaceful means,” it said. “Any action that lacks fairness and justice may bring unintended consequences to the initiator.”
The Chinese regime initially abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote that paved the path to military action against Libya, meant to enforce a no-fly zone. Since then the opposition from the Chinese propaganda apparatus has become increasingly strenuous.
France, who led the first strikes, has often been singled out. According to CCTV’s analysis , the state broadcaster, the motive for the “ordinarily low-key France” to go in first was to profit from Libya’s oil.
A breakout section on People’s Daily Online highlights the pitfalls of a “blow to the world economy” that they say the attacks on Libya have brought.
But while the People’s Daily editorial emphasized the “negative economic impact” the attacks were having on the Libyan people, the real economic losers in Gadhafi’s near-downfall are more likely to be the Chinese, according to Fisher. “They embraced Gadhafi,” Fisher says, “and reaped the rewards of all this business.”
There were 35,000 Chinese in Libya working on multibillion-dollar construction projects, and flagship Chinese companies with close connections to the state, like Huawei, were rolling out sizable infrastructure projects. Chinese investment in Libya last year was US$10 billion, and Chinese companies are expected to lose tens of millions.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu was featured in a People’s Daily online forum, below a large headline saying that Libya’s fate should be decided by its own people, “And Not By Tomahawk Guided Missiles!”