Selective Sensationalism, or why I do not read newspapers

This is a short note to point out that for some time now I have not read newspapers – especially ‘Western’ ones that may be desrcibed as corporate, state-owned (Dansk Radio, BBC, ABC etc) or even supposedly ‘independent’ operators (like The Guardian, but also many more), let alone the various ‘grey zone’ outlets.

There are a number of reasons. The first is that there is precious little actual news reporting. Much of the material contains gossip (for example, personal life matters, a certain person’s ‘tweets’), opinion and advertising disguised as news.

The second is very little in-depth analysis that tries to consider the whole picture. When they do appear, the items end up propogating a particular view of the world that derives from the Euro-American situation. This ideological framework is like a slow drip of toxins into the brain. At the same time, there are profound absences concerning important developments in many other parts of the world (Africa, Eurasian integration, among other examples).

The third is perhaps the main reason: selective sensationalism. When there is something from, say, China or the DPRK, one or two pieces of half-truth or simple falsities are selected, spun into a certain narrative and then sensationalised. Highly unreliable stuff. I can guess some of the content, even though I have not read this material for some time: life and politics in the DPRK; the situation in Xinjiang (China), the social credit system in China, as well as the widespread use of facial recognition software.

Reading such material, as they say, rots your brain.

What do I read, if anything? From time to time my preferred location is Xinhua News. Why? It is government funded and properly resourced, with an emphasis on in-depth analysis and study by its journalists. Usually, they take time to research an article, with a number of contributors. Opinion is restricted to where it should be: occasional editorials. And it steers clear of anything like gossip.

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China and the Vatican sign provisional agreement on appointment of bishops

This happened faster than one might have expected, even with the 300 year history of the ‘Chinese Rites controversy’. They key, however, was not so much whether traditional Chinese rites were compatible with Roman Catholicism, but who would appoint the bishops. Would it be the Vatican or the state, an old controversy indeed even in Europe? Thus far, no agreement had been reached, so two branches of the Roman Catholic Church have been operating in China, one recognised by the state and the other by the Vatican (more detail here).

But now, after lengthy negotiations, an agreement has at last been reached. As the Global Times reports (see also the here here and here):

China and the Vatican signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops on Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced later that day.

A Vatican delegation held talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao on Saturday in Beijing, after which the deal was signed, read a statement from the ministry’s website.

The two sides will continue communicating to promote bilateral relations, said the statement.

The two sides put in great effort to achieve the agreement and their good intentions deserve to be known, said Bishop Fang Jianping, deputy head of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

The provisional agreement will open a new page for the China-Vatican relations, Fang told the Global Times on Saturday.

“Provisional” shows this agreement will be improved and expanded over time, Vatican affairs expert Francesco Sisci told the Global Times on the signing of the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on Saturday.

The Vatican is the historical continuity of thousands of years of Western civilization. The Chinese government is the continuity of three millennia of history. This deal signals that, for the first time, these two civilizations are meeting as equals, in peace, without the hatred of war or the petty calculations of trade, Sisci said.

The deal does not deserve criticism from Catholic groups as it was reached out of practical needs and to further the global development of the Catholic church, Fang noted.

Critics of the long-waited agreement are merely a “loud minority,” said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, also chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“In our interpretation, the critics are a little minority group of people, people who wanted to create trouble,” the bishop told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Sorondo explained the importance of having this deal, or having China better involved in the Catholic world, is that “the country has a large population with good quality people, it observes the common good and it has proved its ability to great missions like fighting against poverty and pollution.”

Note: this is the same Sorondo who observed last year:

Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese …

They (the Chinese) seek the common good, subordinating things to the general good … The dignity of the person is defended …

Liberal thought has liquidated the concept of the common good, not even wanting to take it into account, asserting that it is an empty idea, without any interest. By contrast, the Chinese focus on work and the common good.

Kim Jong Un, statesman

This has already gone beyond what might have been expected: another step towards Korean reunification. As multiple sources report in the two Koreas, a high level delegation from the south has recently concluded a two-day visit to the north. This is the third such event in the last couple of months. They met with Kim Jong Un and other leading officials and put everything on the table.

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As KCNA reports: (also here):

Shaking hands of the special envoy and his party one by one, respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un warmly welcomed them to Pyongyang.

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Jong Ui Yong courteously conveyed a personal letter of President Moon Jae In to the Supreme Leader.

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The members of the special envoy delegation presented gratitude to the Supreme Leader for having dispatched high-level delegations and various large-scale delegations with the 23rd Winter Olympics as a momentum to ensure its successful holding.

Expressing thanks for this, Kim Jong Un said it is natural to share the joy over an auspicious event of fellow countrymen of the same blood and help them. The recent Winter Olympics served as a very important occasion in displaying the stamina and prestige of our nation and providing a good atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and dialogue between the north and the south, he added.

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Then he had an openhearted talk with the south side’s special envoy delegation over the matters arising in actively improving the north-south relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his fixed will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.

After being told about President Moon Jae In’s intention for a summit by the special envoy of the south side, the Supreme Leader exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement.

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He gave an important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for it.

He also had an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south.

The talk proceeded in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere.

The dinner afterwards was also celebrated in a ‘warm atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings’.

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What, exactly, is a ‘satisfactory agreement’? Moon Jae-in’s office clarified, after the southern delegation returned:

  1. A summit next month between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, to be preceded by discussions over a ‘hotline’: ‘The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit’.
  2. The topics: denuclearisation, believe it or not, which also entails that ‘military threats against North Korea removed’ and the safety and security of the state ‘be guaranteed’.
  3. A promise from Kim Jong Un ‘not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South’.

Obviously, these developments were unexpected only a few months ago. But Moon Jae-in has perhaps an even more delicate diplomatic task, given the fact that 20-30,000 US forces occupy the south. So, on the one hand he stresses the need for US-DPRK talks (to which the north has agreed) and the need to keep ‘sanctions’ in place with the aim of full denuclearisation. But as he does so, he also observes:

The dismantlement of the (North’s) nuclear program is the end goal. But given that the immediate dismantlement of it may be difficult, I think we can go through a certain road map before reaching that dismantlement stage.

In other words, we’ll get on with talks aiming at reunification and peace on the Korean peninsula even if the aims of others are a long way off. Or, as the Unification Minster of the south put it, the ‘government will utilize the current momentum to develop inter-Korean ties in a stable manner and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula’.

Meanwhile, what is the USA doing as all this happens? It is largely reduced to flapping at the sidelines, with Trump employing the great diplomatic tool of twitter as a sign of sheer uselessness. But these developments have a history, apart from the consistent north Korean policy of reunification, without outside interference, peacefully and through a federal system. Already at the ASEAN summit last year, the USA was sidelined. Asian countries realised that the USA is in serious decline and no longer a major player, so they began finding ways to solve their own problems. Clearly, Kim Jong Un has seen the opportunity to act on long-standing policy in the north – as his new year statement made clear. But so also has Moon Jae-in, once the bluster from the US passed. It seems as though the Koreans are genuinely trying to deal with their own problems.

Now, all of this may not lead to anything, but I do find that I get more optimistic as I get older. So it seems that Kim Jong Un may well be a greater statesman than many might have expected.

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Edelman Trust Barometer: China tops the world

These curious reports keep appearing. I have already mentioned the Ipsos survey from last year, which found last year that 87% of people in China are confident in the direction the country is heading. Now we have the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds the following for China:

Trust among the ‘informed public’:

In government: 89%

In business: 85%

In media: 80%

In NGOs: 76%

Average: 83%

Trust among the general population:

In government: 84%

In business: 74%

In media: 71%

In NGOS: 66%

Average: 74%

Overall, this is up by 27% in one year, the highest in the world:

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Or in a slightly different graph:

Edelman 01

Yes, the USA is by far the worst (Australia dropped 10 percent), while China is followed by UAE and South Korea. Or to put this in another perspective (since South Koreans were at rock bottom):

China and US Poles

In this light, you can understand the significant changes to the Chinese constitution proposed by the Central Committee, just before the two sessions of parliament open (next post).

China and the Munich Security Conference

Much happened at the recently concluded Munich Security conference, but I am particularly interested in the speech by the outgoing foreign minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel. Some interpreted the speech as an attack on China and its Belt and Road Initiative, seeing the speech an accusation that China is trying to take over the world. However, if you actually look at the text of the speech, you will see that he has relatively little to say about China or Russia, or indeed the Korean peninsula – except to frame the speech in terms of a substantially changed world. Instead, he is most concerned about the way the United States is disappearing from the scene (as someone else pointed out, it is like watching the collapse of the Roman Empire). Gabriel worries about the fragmentation of the ‘liberal’ – that is, bourgeois – world order, imploring the USA to get involved again and suggesting that Europe as a whole needs to step up. All of this was far more accurately reported by Deutsche Welle.

But what did Gabriel say about China? He does say that China (implicitly Chinese Marxism) has a very different approach to the world, which is not a bourgeois liberal one focused on ‘freedom’, (bourgeois) ‘democracy’ and ‘the individual’. True enough, and I too am against this kind of world ‘order’. However, Gabriel also observes that China is the only global superpower that has a ‘truly global, geo-strategic’ idea, which it pursues consistently. Most importantly, he says that he is certainly not reproaching China for this project, for it is China’s perfect right (das gute Recht) to develop it.

The problem, however, is that Europe does not have a coherent answer. What type of answer? An alternative to China? No, what is needed is a new approach of shared values and global balance rather than a zero-sum game. Sounds remarkably like Xi Jinping’s ‘community of shared future for all’. (Another piece in DW indicates how China and the EU are already moving closer).

On this note, it is worth noting that Fu Ying (chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the National People’s Congress) made it clear at the conference that China is not interested in a ‘competition of systems’. While she pointed out that the ‘Western’ system so beloved by Sigmar Gabriel (and others) has raised as many problems as it has solved, China is not interested in replacing it. To quote the article further:

But as China becomes stronger, questions and worries outside of China emerged.

What does it mean when China vows to “move closer to center stage”? Does it mean China is prepared to replace the United States and playing a “leading role”? When China offers “Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach”, is that tantamount to China exporting its development model?

Fu answered to these worries by saying “We wish to play a role in world affairs and make an even greater contribution to mankind. But it must be done within our means and in a manner consistent with our values.”

She emphasized that China has only offered a new option to countries that seek rapid development while retaining their independence, “but this does not mean that China’s model and ideology are to be exported.”

 

China best realises the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church: Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo

This one is causing no small brouhaha among reactionary Roman Catholics and others. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, made the following observations in an interview:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

As part of the diplomacy efforts, Bishop Sánchez Sorondo visited the country. “What I found was an extraordinary China,” he said. “What people don’t realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo concluded by saying that China is “developing well” and now has “many points of agreement” with the Vatican.

I never thought I would be quoting the Catholic Herald, but there you go. All of this is part of a serious historical deal in the making between the Chinese government and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. For the last few centuries, there have been two Roman Catholic Churches in China. One is officially recognised by the state – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) – and the other is not. A root cause of their difference is an old problem: who appoints bishops, the state or the Vatican? The officially recognised church has bishops who are recognised by the state, while the unofficial church does not. This has been the status quo for the odd century or three.

Now a breakthrough is in the works. Pope Francis has actively encouraged a deal in which future bishops would be appointed by a process that includes input from the government and the Vatican. Things move slowly in the Roman Catholic Church, since this little conflict goes way back to the efforts by Matteo Ricci and then the ‘Rites Controversy’ of the 17th and 18th centuries. But now it may well be resolved and the two branches of the Roman Catholic Church in China may become one – following the model already in place in Vietnam.

Needless to say, Chinese commentary has seen this as a positive development (here, here and here).