Caribbean Journalists Courted by Chinese Regime

March 1, 2011 1:03 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 5:30 pm
Journalists and editors from the Caribbean smile for the camera as a young chaperone 'Eric' gives the thumbs-up. At the Foreign Affairs University the journalists would be taught that China's political system had changed a lot, and even that China was not a one-party state. (Courtesy of Gwyneth Harold)
Journalists and editors from the Caribbean smile for the camera as a young chaperone ‘Eric’ gives the thumbs-up. At the Foreign Affairs University the journalists would be taught that China’s political system had changed a lot, and even that China was not a one-party state. (Courtesy of Gwyneth Harold)

As part of its efforts to influence global opinion about China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) gives hard-to-resist treats to media workers in the Caribbean. In exchange for its generosity, the CCP hopes to get coverage of China in line with its propaganda.

Since around 2007, journalists and editors from these small island nations are fêted with official tours to China where they are greeted and banqueted, given tours and lectures, and patiently educated on the “peculiar characteristics” of modern China’s political and social system.

They are taught that China is a multi-party state, not a one-party dictatorship; that the current regime is authentically Chinese, rather than a foreign import; that the domestic media are very patriotic, not that they are state-controlled; and that the CCP is doing its utmost to distribute the country’s wealth in the most equitable fashion, not that it is rife with corruption.

Some of these themes have been key to the CCP’s foreign propaganda work since the 1980s. The Party has attempted to de-emphasize politics, and present China as a democratic country with a proper legal system, according to Anne-Marie Brady, author of Marketing Dictatorship

Vernon Davidson is chief editor of Jamaica Observer, one of the largest newspapers on that island. He went to China in the latest such trip, titled the “Professional Program for Journalists from Caribbean Countries,” running from Oct. 13–26, 2010. The Epoch Times interviewed and surveyed participants.

“I was of the impression that there was one party and that elections were just a sham,” Mr. Davidson said. But “they gave us the name of the other party and we got a chance to see on television the National People’s Congress in action, and you saw all the political representatives coming in,” he said, referring to the rubber-stamp legislature that provides an appearance of supervision over one-party rule.

Davidson is not an easy man to fool (he does not trust Wikipedia, for example: “Anyone can edit that website—did you know that?”), but he found the evidence for a multi-party system in front of his eyes irresistible.

“I am now learning that while the government takes a strong hand in running the country, they do embrace other viewpoints from the other political parties.” “I have no reason to doubt them,” he said. “I think it’s a good system.”

Professor Zhu Liqun, assistant president of the China Foreign Affairs University, spoke to Caribbean journalists on Oct. 13 last year. She said China is a developing country and it will be paying more attention to balancing the economy to help the people. (Courtesy of Gwyneth Harold)
Professor Zhu Liqun, assistant president of the China Foreign Affairs University, spoke to Caribbean journalists on Oct. 13 last year. She said China is a developing country and it will be paying more attention to balancing the economy to help the people. (Courtesy of Gwyneth Harold)

A former broadcast journalist in Grenada went on an all expenses paid trip to China; she spoke on condition of anonymity because she now works for the Grenadian government. As part of the agreement she had to write a report and send it to the local Chinese Embassy.

She also reconciled herself to China’s political dictatorship in the course of the trip. “My principle was that if it was that your culture, then so be it. But it’s not my personal view, it’s not nice. To me, freedom is the best, but if that’s the way of life and the people are used to it by now … then so be it.”

Going Out

For several years the Party’s official media agencies have been on a mission to “go out” and herald the good news, in dozens of languages, of China’s “peaceful rise” (later changed to the less ominous “peaceful development.”)

Alongside spending billions on its own media, an extensive effort is underway to sway the views of journalists at other media agencies—particularly those in smaller or poorer countries.

It is difficult to gain anything but ad-hoc information on the frequency of the trips and who participates in them, but online accounts suggest there have been several each year for the last three years for the Caribbean alone.

The idea of winning over journalists has roots in Chinese communist history.

In 1970 the scholar Cecil Johnson noted the Chinese Communist Party’s assiduousness in wooing members of the press corps, especially in Latin American countries: “The Chinese … have spared no effort in gaining supporters of this profession. They have not slighted representatives of small and rather insignificant papers and magazines.”

Some of the Caribbean countries targeted are small indeed. “You’re talking about populations that are very, very tiny, and so your press may be 10 people in total for a whole country,” said a State Department official who used to work in the region. “And all of them get to go to China.” When an entire press corps can be lifted out, “that may have a different impact when they come back.”

Next: Political Hospitality