Which voice came from the mouthpiece?

As long as China controls its information landscape, it will be responsible for being misunderstood

How seriously should you take vitriolic—or soothing—opinion that comes out of China over the internet? Ananth Krishnan warns against the tendency to assume every voice is that of a government mouthpiece.

News reports also claimed the write-up could not have been published without the permission of the Chinese authorities — another dubious claim tied to the simplistic notion that the Chinese government vets every opinion expressed on all of China’s hundreds of political websites. The Chinese government blocks and censors numerous websites that are politically sensitive, discussing subjects like the Tiananmen Square protests or the Falun Gong. But suggesting that the government controls and moderates debates and political opinions in blogs and newspapers is a stretch.

It also belies a lack of understanding of the changing nature of China’s information landscape. China has 338 million Internet users and more than 100 million blogs and websites, such as the one where this post first appeared. It only takes a quick glance through half a dozen such sites—even “influential” ones—to look at the divergence of opinions and vibrancy of debates, with many voices even strongly criticising the Communist Party and its government. Yet the simplistic perception still endures in India that in authoritarian China, every analyst or writer must surely speak in the same voice.

Interpreting information from these four avenues is further complicated by the fact that they are sometimes inter-linked. For instance, the Chinese government sometimes uses influential think-tanks to hint at changes in policy. Views and opinions from mainstream Chinese newspapers and think-tanks must indeed be taken seriously in India. But at the same time, a more nuanced understanding of China’s information landscape is needed to avoid shrill hyper-reactions to anonymous bloggers and irrelevant fringe groups.

This is crucial to creating a level of discourse in India that allows for a deeper, more meaningful engagement with China’s opportunities and threats. [The Hindu]

That is a very sensible conclusion. What it does not state explicitly is that much of the reason why China is misunderstood to the extent that it is, is because of China itself. The lack of transparency in public discourse, the overbearing role of the state in permitting some views while going to great lengths to proscribe others, and the deliberately unclear linkages among the party, government, academia and media often results in people assuming the worst.

A relatively harmless result of this is the demonisation of China in societies that deal with it. More dangerous is the mistaking of noise for signal—it’s bad for everyone if the fulminations of an “angry youth” run the risk of being confused with tacit but deliberate military threats issued by a key senior official. If China doesn’t want to be misunderstood, it should do its part first.

10 thoughts on “Which voice came from the mouthpiece?”

  1. As soon as China does its part, we’ll definitely come to know that winds of change are blowing. For instance, it will then come as a no surprise to anyone to find criticism of China’s communist party and government in “The Hindu” of Chennai.

  2. That’s the thing they don’t have to worry about their part, as they can repeat the Tiananmen square incident again. The best part about China is that they keep their people in control and can even suppress them if they want to, hence they are very active in taking aggressive decisions like the one about India and supporting N. Korea without worrying about the consequences

  3. Raman sahib has fisked AK’s article here.

    Vintage Raman, but he gets a tad too personal…and flaunting age and experience was unnecessary. We know their backgrounds!

  4. Why does every neighbor of India claim “Plausible Deniability”? I can forgive this, but the use of the phrase “Non-State Actors” really puts me off. Anyways, I digress…

    It is good to know that the Chinese can get rhetorical too. I say this because I have always viewed Chinese and their foreign policy as being very practical. Such outbursts indicate that there are hot-blooded people too and that is not a very good virtue when it comes to international diplomacy.

    The flip side is that what China really might be doing here is testing the waters for India’s tolerance level before they turn “words into actions”.

  5. That article by Ananth Krishnan was rubbish. Yes, rubbish. To paraphrase Blackadder, A ‘Hindu’ correspondent proferring his opinion on China in the Op-Ed page of The Hindu is akin to a broken pencil. Pointless.

  6. It is interesting that ‘Zhan Lue’ approximately translates to ‘strategy’ (see link). It suggests that the byline is a pseudonym.

    So for all the discussion about how CIISS is quasi-government, etc., it is more than likely that someone from within the establishment (the army or the defence/foreign ministries) actually wrote/sanctioned the writing of the piece.

  7. This idea of balkanizing India was first thought up by Pakistanis under the leadership of Jinnah, and the Chinese seem to be picking up Pakistan’s strategy, which alone speaks of China’s ill-intentions towards India, not withstanding all the PR drama both countries keep up in order to keep down overtly hostile conduct.

    China has plenty of anti-nationals in India to work with (“The Hindu” can provide free PR for chinese interests, but continuing to be China’s mouthpiece in India, speaking only for Chinese interests), starting with the LWEs to disaffected groups in the NE states. This article may be the beginning of the chinese intentions to build a humint network inside India that will work with China. All the chinese AK-47 knockoffs found with the NE terrorist groups are surely sourced from China. The question is which of the groups in India will work with China. Given that ULFA terrorist Paresh Barua is now under the protection of Beijing, it is very likely that the NE will be China’s first target, in terms of strengthening ties with existing groups and the creation of new “freedom movements” in India.

  8. When in doubt, go to a primary source.


    The entire article as it were is the first post in the thread. You don’t even need to read Chinese to realize that the brevity shows it’s more of an op-ed piece than any policy proscription. Furthermore it’s missing the Marxist dialectic of a true blue (or red rather) communist apparatchik, terms like democratic centralist party building.

    Basically an anonymous post on an internet forum is reproduced by a nationalist website that happens to have a rather self-important title that sounds similar to a government think tank. Ergo it has to be government sponsored. The internet is the internet, Chinese or not. Censorship exists, but it’s efficacy is questionable give the absolute enormous amounts of verbage that gets spilled out by the couple hundred million Chinese web surfers.

    Here’s a website that posts translations of Chinese internet errata, memes, and random tabloid stuff. link or link

    Not exactly party approved commentary at China’s largest web portals.

    Really the whole affair is more revealing of Indian insecurities than any PRC government intentions. That people keep thinking it must have some sort of government sanction without any proof whatsoever is just keeping up the find Indian tradition of self-deception. This reminds me somewhat of the great Cocos Island Chinese spy base that never existed. Despite the fact that it never existed, and there not being any evidence that it had ever existed, Indian pundits, media, even politicians kept on insisting it was there. In the end, the entire affair was a self-licking lollipop of equal parts paranoia, delusion, and fear with ignorance feed. Confirmation bias seems to be the only game in town when it comes to India’s so-called strategic thinkers.

  9. China controls information strictly, so this article is by a website associated with the Chinese military, even though the article was moved later on. This article had the okay from the highest levels of the chinese government. So Chinese Communist propaganda specialists can chill out on their propaganda.

    This chinese propaganda drone Jing is pretending that the Indian reaction to a paranoid and psychotic article from official Chinese organs is the “original sin”. No, Jing, Indians are not stupid to swallow communist lies.

  10. To Alagu Periaswamy, I am glad you can not read Chinese and is safely immune to the risk of getting astonished (or thundered, in Chinese terms) to death on an hourly basis by fiercer and more malicious articles on the Chinese web. In case this crap article has fanned up such a mess in India it seems to look a bit less out-of-mind to me.

    “Strategy” as a pen-name? lol. No serious analyst uses an abstract nickname.

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