Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on May 2, 2008
The backlash against the backlash has begun. For weeks now, we’ve been reading about Chinese officials, Chinese students overseas, ordinary Chinese at home, furious about the coverage of Tibet and the Olympic torch relay. The rage against Carrefour, against CNN, against politicians like Nancy Pelosi (called “disgusting” by the Chinese press) and activists like Mia Farrow (who flew into Hong Kong yesterday for a speech timed to coincide with the return of the torch to China after its controversial trip abroad)is now leading China to lose supporters abroad. According to John Pomfret, former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post and now the paper’s Outlook editor and blogger about China, “across the globe China is dropping in the polls. And it’s not due to lack of contact with the Chinese, people who are polled say, it’s because we’re getting to know them better.” Adds Barron YoungSmith in the New Republic’s the Plank blog: “Recent months have seen China’s global standing plummet like Bill Clinton in South Carolina.”
At least some Chinese officials must realize their spin doesn’t quite cut it with Western audiences. So why the bizarre rhetoric? Maybe they’re so angry with the Dalai Lama and his supporters overseas that they just can’t restrain themselves. Or maybe they know just what they’re doing. Recall how back in the mid-1990s, before Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, Beijing tore into then-Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten for daring to propose democratic reforms. Patten was a “whore,” “criminal” and a “serpent.”
The worry then, just a few years after Tiananmen’s democracy movement, was that Patten’s policies would catch on in Hong Kong and win fans across the border in the mainland itself. So Beijing’s propagandists went into overdrive to remind Chinese just how disloyal it would be for them even to consider siding with Patten. And sure enough, minutes after midnight on July 1, 1997, while the last governor was sailing out of Victoria Harbor with Price Charles aboard the Royal Yacht Britainia, the Chinese government dumped his reforms. London was powerless to do anything about it. By denouncing the “Dalai clique” and calling Nancy Pelosi “a protector of mobsters, arsonists and murderers,” Beijing again is sending a message to the 1.3 billion Chinese inside the PRC. If that turns people off in the U.S. or Europe, so be it.