Dr Jasmine Li Zhang, ESiA Research Fellow and EUC Visiting Fellow
30 July 2009
Dr Jasmine Zhang studied 17 years of Chinese media reports on the EU to investigate the relationship between Chinese media coverage of the Union, and Beijing’s national, economic, security and foreign policy interests. She presented her case study in a research seminar to invited guests.
Dr Zhang tracked Chinese media reports dating from 1989-2005 in the People’s Daily paper, regarded as one of the most authoritative and influential Chinese newspapers. Based on these and her own interviews with Chinese editors and journalists involved in EU reporting, Dr Zhang proposed that media coverage of the EU-China relationship does conform to real world EU-China relations to a large degree. However, the representation of the EU in the media does not necessarily correspond to EU-China relations in reality, or with the general perception of the EU in the world.
Following a lull in relations in wake of Tiananmen and subsequent sanctions, EU-China relations saw a big leap in 1998. The EU and China set up the annual summit meeting, and the EU officially became China’s strategic cooperation partner. This enhanced relationship, along with major developments in the EU- the Single Market, euro, and eastwards expansion, were accompanied by a corresponding rise in Chinese media coverage of the EU. The reality on the ground matched this greater interest in the EU. Cooperation projects such as in trade, environment and information science mushroomed. In development mode, China welcomed inflows of European technology, capital, management skills and talent. While the rise in volume of coverage in economic and trade developments matched these events, Dr Zhang proffered that the tone of coverage was driven by a number of Beijing’s interests and understanding of world order.
Dr Zhang expressed that that Chinese leaders genuinely see the EU as a potential great power and its integration as an effective model for peace and stability of a region. China’s own ambitions are for stable, peaceful modernisation. Concurrently, the media represents the EU as an integrated whole, rather than a sum of individual states. She found that Chinese media tended to highlight the peace and stability of political integration, rather than the debate, argument & negotiation that came with the process. Chinese leaders see the EU as a potential counterweight to US hegemony, and a partner in a future multi-polar world in which China herself aspires to be a world power. In tandem with these visions, the Chinese media portrays the EU as a recognised pole in global issue, in spite of what Dr Zhang termed its real points of weaknesses as a global actor.
China has its share of confrontation with the EU over issues such as human rights and the arms embargo. However, overall media coverage continued to range between positive to “neutral and mixed”. Dr Zhang saw EU-China relations as far less ideological, with fewer historical complexities than China’s relationship with Japan, Russia or the US as a possible reason.
The former communication manager and journalist revealed that Chinese news reporting acts as a forum where Beijing can put forth its foreign policy, national interests and security strategy through speeches and official releases. The media thus almost becomes “self conscious” in “learning the government positions”, and these are in turn translated into its daily work.