PRC and PR

One of modern life’s greatest pleasures is watching a bunch of unlovable and despicable rogues run themselves into an increasingly, utterly horrible PR mess. (The classic hilarious example from years ago: McDonalds suing a couple of ragged vegetarians.) Typically, a combination of in-house incompetence and uncontrollable external events combine to expose the Official Truth as self-delusion and/or plain lies, and – to onlookers’ glee – panicky damage-control backfires to compound the disaster.

China’s Communist party-state seems to be starting 2016 in such a sorry situation – wading deeper and deeper into reputational problems as it struggles to reconcile its internal fictional message with internationally recognized facts.

The most pressing image-management ‘contradictions’ obviously involve the economy. With official data on GDP growth, unemployment, inflation, and debt falsified or obscured, no-one really knows what is going on. But some things are observable. We see clumsy stock/currency market mismanagement, suggesting incompetence and panic – which themselves sound like cause and effect of bigger problems buried under the official stats. And there are all the clear direct or indirect signs of over-capacity, capital flight, labour problems and other trouble.

Perversely, the Chinese authorities stick with the clear lie that growth remains at 7% (or 6.9876% or whatever). Such a high growth rate at the same time as the capital flight/labour protests/etc would indicate an economy so grotesquely imbalanced that it is sure to explode. If they were honest and admitted to (say) 2% growth, the problems would be more understandable, and the picture would actually be more reassuring. As it is, most observers are being realistic/charitable and politely ignoring the 7%-growth fiction. But the blatant refusal to admit the obvious does make Beijing’s officials look infantile.


The PR problems get nastier as they get more localized. The big story of the weekend was the victory of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP in the Taiwan elections. The polling started with news that a Taiwanese K-pop star had been forced to make a groveling filmed ‘confession’ to the PRC after waving an ROC flag in a video. The main villains are the Korean entertainment company (which reaps big bucks from stars’ Mainland commercial deals) and an aging Mainland-domiciled Taiwan star who likes to expose unpatriotic rivals. But the message is clear: Beijing expects and requires humiliation of 16-year-olds for the slightest transgression of its ‘Taiwan doesn’t exist’ fantasy. If you wanted to alienate people whose loyalty you crave, I couldn’t think of a better way.

But wait! I could…

As we all know, in accordance with the regime’s obsession with image-manipulation, Beijing’s security apparatus has been abducting Hong Kong book publishers. After a fifth was grabbed in late December off the streets of Hong Kong itself, this became a big scandal. The Chinese authorities are now looking for a way out. Behold – they are busy making the PR screw-up even bigger.


Following presumably faked communications from Lee Bo, we now get a televised ‘confession’ from Gui Minhai, who disappeared from Thailand. It is standard Stalin-showtrial-with-Chinese-characteristics stuff. But the apparently uninspired spin-doctors still have another three (four, with Lee) accounts of the disappearances and ‘guilt’ to concoct and disseminate. Such contrived stories for all five victims will inevitably come across as a joke. Hong Kong’s officials and Beijing loyalists will be forced to make themselves part of the joke if their masters order them to publicly embrace this crap as the truth. And even then, one day, the five will have to be freed to tell their stories.

This mess started off as an attempt to protect the regime’s image at home, and it has now become one more blight on the country’s international reputation. To the audience in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world as a whole, China self-mutilates rather than saves face. Yet again.

I could go into the way China’s censors banned ‘Tsai Ing-wen’ from Internet searches for a while on Saturday, then changed their minds. But we could go on and on.

Are we going to have a whole year of this? It will be the most gruesomely entertaining ever.

The overall impression the world gets from Beijing’s frantic attempts to impose the Communist Party’s fiction everywhere is that China’s leaders and political system are simultaneously both child-like and evil. It is a combination (The Exorcist/The Omen/Stephen King/etc) that manages to be creepier than any other type of sinister. Bang goes the cuddly panda bear.

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12 Responses to PRC and PR

  1. Alas, Hong Kong says:

    The five men may not necessarily be freed in due course. They might be held permanently, or “commit suicide” while in custody.

  2. LRE says:

    “Please Sir, the dog ate my publishers.”

  3. Monkey Reborn says:

    I view them more as Dr. Evil types, sans the mini-me (only due to technological limitations I’m sure). Except with a real-life multi-billion dollar security apparatus. And nuclear weapons. At least they don’t go in for religious extremism though (fingers on the button listening for God to “tell me when…”).

  4. K-Porn Can Rot in Hell says:

    Yeah, the forced confession by that 16-year old girl is truly a new low for the Korean pimps of pop soft porn. Despicable. It’s especially ironic when you consider Korean xenophobia and their own particular brand of nationalism. I would like to see South Koreans forced to say they all pray to the deities of Kim Ilsung and Kim Jungil and worship his holiness Kim Jungeun.

    Hypocrisy. No one does it better. Loathsome scum.

  5. One of the great hazards of bookselling is reading your stock. Lee Bo read too much Kafka and was so overwhelmed by guilt and persecution mania, he handed himself in. Be warned booksellers. Leave the books in their plastic wrappers.

  6. @Enid – or perhaps he read Peter Pan and flew across the border, bypassing Immigration checks.

  7. reductio says:

    Reductio’s daydream…

    “Hello everyone, there’s something I want to tell you all,” Ms. Chou says in the video, dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and standing against a gray wall. She then bows down and continues, saying she owes a belated apology.

    “There is only one China,” Ms. Chou says, reading from a piece of paper and echoing Beijing’s verbal formula for denying the possibility that Taiwan could ever achieve independence.

    “The two sides of the strait are one, and I have alway… No hold on… I just want to say this… FREE TAIWAN! Kiss my a** Korean “music” industry and the douche-bags in Beijing can take a big hike. North of the Great Wall.

    Thank you. Any questions?” [pace NY Times]

  8. Knownot says:

    “China’s leaders and political system are simultaneously both child-like and evil.”

    When Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned, Jonathan Mirsky said the Chinese government was frightening and frightened.

  9. Knownot says:

    He appears, tears flowing,
    On state television, showing
    Shame, distress.
    “I’m to blame! I confess!”

    We wince, knowing
    Where he’s going.

    And how the wind’s blowing.

  10. Chinese Netizen says:

    @K-porn: Re your assessment of the Korean breed. I…cannot…disagree.

  11. Cassowary says:

    “China’s Communist party-state seems to be starting 2016 in such a sorry situation – wading deeper and deeper into reputational problems as it struggles to reconcile its internal fictional message with internationally recognized facts.”

    In politics there are no such things as facts. Several American presidential candidates are demonstrating that it doesn’t matter how brazenly you lie as long as you keep repeating yourself with smug certitude. The cover story is only intended to give the Hong Kong government an excuse to wash their hands of him, and more importantly, to give Beijing a pretext to tell the Swedish government to sod off. He’s not missing, he’s a criminal. Mind your own business.

    They found their fall guy. If the silence of the rest can be extorted (would you like your children to keep all of their fingers?), they’ll probably be released after “assisting” with the investigation of a 10 year-old drunk driving case. As one does.

  12. Chinese Netizen says:

    It’s all fine as long as they (CCP goons) continue to buy ad space in Times Square to show the world their “soft power”…

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