China using Scarborough dispute to hide scandals, analysts say

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at May 17 2012 09:59 PM | Updated as of May 18 2012 10:51 PM

MANILA, Philippines - China's Communist Party could be using its territorial dispute with the Philippines to hide domestic scandals from its people, according to foreign analysts and bloggers.

China's leaders could be stoking nationalism in the media over the Scarborough dispute to shift attention away from home, said Harry Kazianis, assistant editor of The Diplomat, an international current affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.

"The Chinese Communist Party has a great deal of influence over what is said in its mainstream media in print, over the radio, on TV and in social media. If Chinese authorities were so inclined, they could rein in jingoism. Yet there seems little inclination so far to do so," Kazianis wrote in an article, "Beware of Chinese Jingoism".

Jingoism is defined as extreme patriotism in the form of an aggressive foreign policy.

He criticized Chinese media's calls for war between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough dispute.

"Chinese media has shifted its gaze elsewhere. In the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, depending on which party you ask, tensions are being stoked in the form of provocative editorials, reporting, and the actions of Chinese journalists. Such reporting – nothing more than old fashioned jingoism – sets a dangerous precedent in an area of the world that is already rife with tensions. And, while such coverage is useful for turning the page on China’s internal political soap operas, fueling the fires of Chinese nationalism can only inject a dangerous element that, if left unchecked, could make it harder for either side to compromise," he said.

"While Chinese censors are quick to repress any of the latest news or rumors concerning Bo or Chen, matters in the South China Sea seem like fair game,"  Kazianis added.

He was referring to a scandal involving Bo Xilai, a disgraced Chinese Politburo member who has been sacked from his posts in government and is being implicated in a murder.

Bo's wife has also been dragged into the murder case.

Another hot issue that China is facing is the status of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who earlier sought refuge at the US embassy in China.

"For China's ruling Communist Party, which is heading toward an end-of-year leadership succession, the dispute with Manila can divert attention from recent energy-sapping scandals over sacked Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng," according to Reuters.

Bloggers monitoring China's affairs share the same view.

Andrew Chubb, a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Western Australia, believes that China's Communist Party could be behind the agressive media blitz over Scarborough Shoal.

In his blog, southseaconversations, Chubb said Chinese censors usually delete Internet posts that espouse violence.

However, he noticed such is not the case when it comes to the calls for war over Scarborough Shoal.

"There is no doubt that this was a deliberate campaign to stir up public outrage in China, including demands for war," he said.

He also frowned at Chinese state media's seemingly deliberate distortions and false reports over the situation at Scarborough shoal.

He said the People’s Liberation Army Daily published an article that that called Scarborough Shoal "an issue of territorial integrity, national dignity and even social stability."

"Social stability is of course official code for popular protest (or lack thereof), so the implication was that China could be forced to attack the Philippines because the Chinese people are so angry," Chubb said.

"The [Chinese] leadership is promoting domestic expressions of outrage, including criticism of its own stance as weak, in order to improve its position at the international negotiating table. Something about two birds, one stone. Single arrow, pair of eagles. The Chinese ruling party is good at that," he added.

Another blogger, Jeremy Goldkorn, has gone straight to the point and wrote that Beijing is "distracting the public" in pursuing the Scarborough Shoal dispute.

"The Chen Guangcheng affair barely made a ripple in the Chinese media," he said. "The de facto expulsion of Al Jazeera English service correspondent Melissa Chan from China likewise has not made any headlines in this country."

"Not so the tensions with the Philippines, where China is engaged in a standoff with the island nation over a chunk of rock in the South China Sea," Goldkorn added.

"A cynic might observe that this might be the very tactic being pursued by the Chinese government. The chattering classes in my Weibo feed and the garrulous old men I pass every morning in a hutong on my daily bicycle commute were just last week still talking about the fall of Bo Xilai. Today in Beijing, that seems like so much old news," Goldkorn said.