Xi, citing Korean War, issues a call to arms

November 04, 2020 10:21
Photo: Reuters

President Xi Jinping used the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, which erupted three years before his birth, to declare the conflict a milestone in China’s march toward national rejuvenation, which he has termed the Chinese Dream.

In a major speech, Xi – who is also head of the communist party and commander in chief of the armed forces -- asserted that China was not afraid of war and, in fact, he seemed to endorse a preemptive war, one that “must be fought to deter invasion.”

While he did not mention the United States, his words were clearly a response to aggressive language emanating from the Trump administration in recent months.

“The Chinese nation will never cower before threats or be subdued by suppression,” he said. It was necessary, he added, to speak to invaders “in the language they know: that is, a war must be fought to deter invasion, and violence must be met by violence.”

This martial language on Oct. 23 was continued at the fifth plenum of the Communist Party’s 19th Central Committee, which issued a communique Oct. 29 calling for “comprehensively strengthening training in preparation for war.”

As for the Korean war, since 1950, China has called the conflict “The War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”

It left out the inconvenient truth that it was North Korea that launched the war by invading South Korea, earning condemnation from the United Nations Security Council.

More than a dozen countries, including Australia, Britain and Canada, contributed troops to the war effort led by the United States and fought under the UN flag to help South Korea push back the North Korean soldiers. Even more countries played noncombat roles.

China supported North Korea by sending two million soldiers into war when North Korea was on the verge of being routed but dubbed them “volunteers” so as not to technically be in a state of war with the United States and so give Washington an excuse to act against the communist government in Beijing, which at the time was less than a year old.

These Chinese troops invaded South Korea, occupying the capital, Seoul. Many died in battle. South Korea has in recent years returned remains of soldiers to China. But China has never apologized for its invasion of South Korea.

Xi’s words reveal more about China’s stance today than about events 70 years ago. For one thing, his speech was followed by a huge propaganda barrage against the United States.

A new blockbuster film, “Sacrifice,” designed to enhance patriotic sentiment, raked in $30 million in its first weekend. Some Chinese analysts expect this to be the world’s highest grossing film of the year, with viewing organized by schools and state-owned enterprises. An animated feature for children was also released.

A new film by celebrity director Zhang Yimou– who directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics – will soon be unveiled. It will focus on a Chinese sniper who supposedly killed 214 American soldiers.

These films will be followed by a 20-part series produced by CCTV and a 6-episode series by the Central Military Commission.

This outpouring of propaganda films is designed to influence the Chinese public’s image of America, just as the flood of World War II films helped to create an anti-Japanese environment in China in the last two decades. A Chinese public that had welcomed the Japanese emperor in 1992 ended up being highly hostile toward Japan, in large part due to government propaganda.

Despite a multitude of disputes including such issues as trade, technology, the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Chinese public still has a largely positive image of the United States. Now, it seems, Xi is ratcheting up the propaganda machinery against the West, particularly the United States, by making use of the Korean War.

Even more alarming is that the propaganda is clearly already having an impact, with a number of Chinese-Canadian groups taking China’s side against the United States, Canada and other allied countries. These groups are evidently well plugged into and susceptible to the contents of Chinese propaganda media, and readily identify with China rather than with Canada.

It is not clear if these Chinese-Canadians are aware of the plight of the 300,000 Chinese-Canadians who reside in Hong Kong. Most of them migrated to Canada before Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 and returned to the city after acquiring Canadian citizenship. They obtained Canadian passports not to protect them from the United States. They wanted protection from the Chinese Communist Party.

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.