One Belt, One Road summit: Same event, different portrayals

May 19, 2017 10:09
While official media have been showering Chinese President Xi Jinping with praises regarding his One Belt One Road vision, Western media have a lot of doubts about the true motives behind the plan. Photo: Bloomberg

The two-day One Belt, One Road summit, one of the most eagerly anticipated international events in China this year, ended on May 15.

Party mouthpieces referred to the meeting as a high-level international conference with far-reaching implications for the whole world.

The tuth is, among the guests who attended the summit, only 29 of were incumbent foreign leaders, mainly from developing countries, while the majority of the rest were mostly foreign government ministers, deputy ministers, or retired politicians.

If anything, the summit was marked by three key features -- big fat cheques, thunderous applause from the audience and the propaganda hype surrounding president Xi Jinping's “achievements”.

First, in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony on May 14, Xi wowed his Third World guests by writing several big fat cheques -- he vowed to inject 100 billion yuan into the Silk Road Fund and urged state-run enterprises to chip in another 300 billion yuan to develop offshore funds.

On the other hand, Xi also generously pledged to provide an extra 60 billion yuan in foreign aid for countries along the economic corridor between 2018 and 2020, plus 2 billion yuan in emergency food aid.

Another noteworthy feature of the summit was the frequent and deafening applause by the audience as Xi was delivering his speech.

According to a report in the official Guangming Daily, the audience applauded 27 times during Xi's 40-minute speech.

To put that in perspective, that's one round of applause every 90 seconds. The paper said the frequent applause was an unmistakable indication of their approval of the One Belt, One Road initiative and their gratitude to the Chinese government for its generosity.

However, according to some foreign correspondents present at the scene, there were actually some so-called “lead clappers” scattered among the audience, whose job was to remind others to applaud at regular intervals, which explains why the applause was so orderly and synchronized.

And then there was the massive, nationwide media hype by party mouthpieces to praise President Xi for his achievements during and after the summit.

Virtually all leading official media outlets, including the Guangming Daily, the Beijing Daily, the Southern Daily and the Liberation Daily, ran front-page stories several days in a row to brag about the major “accomplishments” of the summit, and in particular, to praise Xi to the skies and hail him as an up-and-coming world leader who has set the tone for international cooperation and global economic development for decades to come.

Among them, the Southern Daily ran a flattering commentary on May 15, which said the One Belt, One Road summit is bound to have a profound impact on the course of social and economic development of the rest of the world because “it has pointed the international community in the right direction toward sustainable global prosperity and political harmony”.

Above all, the article said president Xi has demonstrated his natural-born qualities as a world leader “with vision, courage and wisdom”.

As a matter of fact, the eagerness and efficiency with which party mouthpieces in the mainland are kissing up to their paramount leader are absolutely astounding. Not long ago Xi was only hailed as the “undisputed leader” of the Communist Party and the Chinese people, and now he is suddenly elevated to the status of “a great and respected world leader”.

However, while party propaganda apparatuses have been working around the clock boasting about the fruitfulness of the summit, the western media have suggested otherwise, and raised doubts about the long-term viability of the strategy, and particularly, Beijing's true motives behind it.

For example, the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” published an article after the summit, saying there are indeed widespread concerns among western companies that the One Belt, One Road strategy might be China's selfish solution to its own issue of excess capacity rather than an initiative to promote free trade in the global market.

On the other hand, the Financial Times in London also ran an article titled “One Belt, One Road -- and many questions”, which called into question whether the strategy itself is really intended to enhance global economic co-operation as Beijing claims, or is in fact aimed at serving its hidden political agenda, which is to establish China's regional hegemony.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist