Justin Trudeau’s rocky trip to China has spilled onto the pages of the country’s nationalist state press, which lashed out at Canadian media for their “superiority and narcissism,” and warned that China is in no rush to step closer to Canada.
As the Canadian prime minister left Beijing Tuesday night without an expected agreement to formally launch free-trade talks, the Communist Party-run Global Times published a sharp-tongued editorial directed at Canada, and in particular the Canadian press.
It pilloried The Globe and Mail as “irritating” for a Monday Globe editorial that called China an “absolute dictatorship” and said Ottawa should “be in no hurry to conclude” deliberations on whether to move forward with trade talks.
“The superiority and narcissism of the Canadian media … is beyond words,” the Global Times wrote. It added that China “is also not in a rush to develop its relations with Canada. Let it be. This is the most genuine attitude of Chinese society.”
The Global Times is a nationalist publication that often voices outrage more openly than other state outlets seen as more official messengers.
But the op-ed forms part of an continuing offensive against Canadian media, including numerous barbed statements by the Chinese embassy in Canada, an outburst by China’s foreign minister at a reporter in Ottawa last year and, on Wednesday, publication of a biting video from Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times.
It also comes amid difficult government negotiations over free trade, in which Mr. Trudeau wants Beijing to submit to “progressive” chapters on labour, the environment and gender that would impose changes on China.
China has not agreed to those demands, although Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne remained in Beijing Wednesday in hopes of salvaging a deal.
In the midst of tough political talks, Canada’s media have become a “surrogate” for frustrations in China, which is loath to directly attack a foreign leader, said Yuezhi Zhao, a scholar of communication in China at Simon Fraser University in B.C.. “They don’t want to critique Trudeau as much,” she said.
But the Chinese media offensive should serve as a warning that “the road to clinching a free-trade agreement will be treacherous,” said Lynette Ong, a political scientist who studies China at the University of Toronto.
Beijing is keenly aware of its economic might, and believes “Canada should count itself lucky to have an FTA with China,” she said. “The Chinese will not easily give in to Canada’s demands.”
The Global Times’ Mr. Hu made that explicit in a video commentary posted Wednesday morning. By late afternoon, it had attracted 140,000 views.
“If Canada is really so tough, why doesn’t it just completely stop trading with China?” Mr Hu said.
Talking over screen shots of recent Globe articles, he made a sarcastic reference to the idea of Canada X-ray scanning every imported Chinese shoe to “check if it is produced democratically.” Or should China, he asked, check every grain of imported Canadian wheat to see “if it is so rich in capitalism that we might choke to death eating it?”
Canadian media should understand “how little influence their country has in China,” he said. And to Canadian authorities, he added: “If you continue to trade with China and benefit from it, you shouldn’t let your foul-mouthed media continue their deeds.”
The abrasive tone is not unusual for Mr. Hu, a controversial figure in China.
But it may also indicate “that China’s honeymoon period with Justin Trudeau is at an end, and that he’ll be viewed more like other foreign leaders,” said David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The barrage of Canada criticism also comes amid a surge of confidence in China’s leadership, buoyed by its ability to avoid the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent unrest that has plagued other countries in recent years. The Communist Party has accomplished that in part through savvy management, and in part through authoritarian rule that intervenes in markets and forcibly quells dissent.
Though that can mean disregarding human rights, China has also successfully maintained stability and improved living conditions – and is increasingly unwilling to broker criticism of its methods.
“Inside China there’s this saying that early on we were beaten. Then we were hungry. And now we are being blamed,” said Prof. Zhao, who has studied Chinese media for two decades. Now, there is a feeling that “we don’t want to be blamed any more.”
China under President Xi Jinping has openly posited its system “as an alternative to the liberal-democratic values that have underpinned the Western world for decades,” said J. Michael Cole, a senior fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute.
He counselled caution for leaders drawn to the rapid rise of what is now the world’s second-largest economy, pointing to “the often corrosive ramifications, for our own cherished values, of closer ties with authoritarian China.”
Criticism of China’s system is shared by some in China, among them critics of Mr. Hu who took to social media after he posted his video.
“I really think you should shut up,” one person wrote. “Has it ever occurred to you why foreign media all love to criticize China ‘unfairly’? I think there’s a lesson you need to learn for yourself,” wrote another. “How can you say China is a dictatorship? China is just a nation where ‘the leader’s orders outweigh the law’,” added another, sardonically.
As prime minister, Mr. Trudeau has refrained from stern public rebukes of China, but said this week he believes a “free, informed independent press is something necessary to support for a society to thrive.” He offered as evidence the fact he conducted a news conference in Beijing. No Chinese media were in attendance, and only reporters travelling from Ottawa were allowed to ask questions.
Asked for comment Wednesday, the prime minister’s officer referred to Mr. Trudeau’s Tuesday remarks.
China heavily censors both traditional and social media. It ranks fifth from the bottom in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, ahead of Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.
For the Global Times, though, unleashing colourful insults against foreign media has become something of a sport. It has called the BBC “disgusting,” accused the Washington Post of “sour grapes” and labelled other British media “gossip fiends” and “barbarians.”
The Canadian media, the paper added in a Chinese-language commentary this week, suffer “narrow-mindedness,” and live in a country that looks to the world like “America’s ‘semi-colony’.”
With reporting by Alexandra Li