It was to be television gold: a U.S. cable news host and a Chinese state television host would duke it out in a live televised debate on the U.S.-China trade war.
The Chinese regime was all set on broadcasting the debate on Chinese airwaves and online, cheering on Liu Xin, the Chinese TV anchor for CGTN, the international arm of China’s state-run broadcaster, CCTV.
But just hours before the debate was set to air on May 29 evening, Chinese authorities suddenly changed their minds.
CGTN claimed that it had to cancel its planned live broadcasting due to copyright issues.
At the same time, Chinese censors have started to delete related online posts, banned comments about the scheduled debate.
Canceled Live Broadcasting
Last week, Liu and Trish Regan exchanged barbs on Twitter, after which Regan invited Liu to appear on her show to debate in person.
Responding on Twitter, Liu agreed to a head-to-head live televised debate about the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute. Chinese media reported the news actively.
The debate had been set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. New York time.
On the same day in Beijing, Lu Kang, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed at a press conference held at 3 p.m. that CGTN would broadcast the live debate on its television channel, while the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily will live-broadcast it on its website.
But a mere two hours later, CGTN announced on its Weibo account, a popular Twitter-like platform that “due to copyright issues, CGTN can’t live broadcast the dialogue between Liu Xin and Fox Business Network host Trish Regan.”
The announcement used the word “dialogue” instead of debate, noting that Liu was attending the event “as a guest.”
Soon after this post, related content about the earlier press conference could not be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
At the same time, Weibo, popular news app Toutiao, and other social media banned comments on the scheduled debate.
Chinese Scholars and Netizens’ Complaints
Chinese netizens complained about the change and urged for the right to watch the live debate.
Others doubted CGTN’s claim that it was unable to obtain the copyright to broadcast. Yu Guoming, executive dean of Journalism and Communication School at Beijing Normal University, commented on Weibo on May 28: “Applying for a copyright license is that difficult? It must be an excuse.”
Yu explained in another post also on May 28: “The content in the debate can’t be predetermined. The Fox Business anchor could get emotional and say something that [the Chinese regime believes] shouldn’t be said. Of course, this can’t be live broadcast. The recorded video will probably have to pass censorship before publishing.”
Netizen Xingchui DSW commented on Weibo: “How come Xinhua [another state-run media] doesn’t have the money to pay for the copyright?” This post was soon deleted.
Frank Qin, a U.S.-based commentator on the Chinese economy, tweeted on May 28: “The real reason for the cancellation is that [CGTN] doesn’t want Chinese people to know the facts of the Chinese regime violating its commitment to the WTO [World Trade Organization], how it went back on its words during the U.S.-China trade talks, and so on.” U.S. officials have claimed that Chinese negotiators reneged on commitments made in previous talks.
After Liu and Regan agreed to the debate, CGTN commented in a TV segment that the event was the “first time in history,” and that Liu “is a queen since 23 years ago when she won an international English debate competition in London.”
State-run media like People’s Daily and Global Times reported on the debate with a strong nationalist tone, hyping Liu to win.
Yuan Zeng, lecturer at the Media and Communication School at the University of Leeds in the U.K., believed the event was a ploy by Beijing to spread its propaganda to American audiences.
“You will see the situation clearly if you think about how many Americans will watch CGTN, versus how many Americans will watch Fox [and witness the debate],” Yuan told the Chinese-language Epoch Times in a May 29 interview.
CGTN is in fact a registered agent of a foreign government under U.S. law. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Justice compelled it and several other Chinese state-run media that operate in the United States to register with the U.S. government.