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China uses Western journalist’s name to praise its political system

Peter Hessler is an American writer and journalist. (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)
Peter Hessler is an American writer and journalist. (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

(TibetanReview.net, Jan23, 2015) – China has taken recourse to a rather disingenuous way of getting itself praised by the West for its dictatorially entrenched political system and claimed social stability: bringing out a bogus byline newspaper article in the name of a person with known expertise on aspects of the situation in the country. China Daily, a state-run newspaper, on Jan 19 carried an article titled “U.S. Observer: Comparing Egypt with China” on its website, written, supposedly, by Peter Hessler, the author of “River Town” and other well-received books about China, according to a blog posting on nytimes.com Jan 21.

The article featured observations about the two countries’ political systems, noted the chaos that Egypt had experienced since the Arab Spring, and praised China for being better equipped to handle any major social change. “Because the state is strong, and power is quite deeply entrenched,” the article was quoted as saying, “whenever significant changes do come, I think they are more likely to succeed, because the Chinese have a significant political foundation, and they have the experience of living in a functional state.”

The article also had Hessler presenting his credentials for making the above observations: “I think I have a better understanding of how essentially stable the Chinese system is.” That was for the reason that Hessler had lived in China for years, moved to Egypt in 2011 and now reports from there for The New Yorker.

The blog posting said the article received substantial attention online, raising eyebrows among Hessler readers who were surprised that he would write a piece for a state newspaper praising the Chinese system’s stability. The surprise was well placed, for Hessler never wrote that piece.

To defend himself, Mr Hessler has sought to put the record straight on his Facebook page, writing, “I want to emphasize that this article does not in any way represent a comprehensive picture of my views on China and Egypt, and I never would have agreed to such a story.”

What had actually happened was that Mr Hessler was approached not to write an opinion piece but to discuss a variety of subjects with a Chinese colleague, Li Xueshun, for a special year-end edition of China Daily. What is more, Mr Hessler had expressed his belief to his Chinese friend in that discussion that China’s campaign against corruption would fail because it would not bring systemic change.

Mr Hessler has also said the article had “omitted crucial parts, including the most important point: that I believe it’s harder to make a political change in China, where the system is deeper rooted than in Egypt, and thus the flaws are also more deeply rooted. I said that this is the reason why the current anticorruption campaign will be a failure, because China is not addressing its systemic flaws.”

Mr Hessler had asked China Daily to remove the article from its website and issue a retraction. But as of Jan 21 morning, while the English-language version of the article had been deleted, the newspaper still had not issued a retraction, noted the blog posting. In fact, a Chinese version was still available on various news portals, including Sina.

The blog posting noted that Journalists and commentators had complained in the past that their remarks or writings had been substantially changed in Chinese state-run news media for what appeared to be political reasons. In 2013, for instance, Rowan Callick, an editor at The Australian, was quoted as saying that people in Tibet were living “a wonderful life.” Mr. Callick later said that the quote did not represent his views but was “pitch-perfect from Beijing’s perspective,” the posting added.

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