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Saturday, January 23, 2021

China Slams U.S. ‘Digital Hegemony,’ Calls for Online ‘Sovereignty’

China’s state-run Global Times on Tuesday denounced big tech censorship of President Donald Trump as an exercise of “U.S. digital hegemony” and demanded companies like Twitter, Google, Apple, and Amazon recognize the “sovereignty” of other nations in cyberspace.

Trump is not generally portrayed as a sympathetic figure in Chinese state media. Even the Global Times lament of the censorship deployed against him slipped in a prediction from “Chinese analysts” that “Trumpism won’t disappear” as a result of big tech attempting to silence him, but instead will “keep tearing apart the U.S.” 

The Tuesday editorial from the Global Times offers a good example of how Chinese propagandists carefully study American journalism, commentary, and social media, constantly seeking angles that can be exploited for Beijing’s political gain. In this case, big tech’s censorship of Trump became a platform for the Global Times to repeat its criticism of American “hegemony” over the Internet — by which it means the U.S. criticizing China for human rights violations and political oppression. When the Chinese Communist Party talks about “sovereignty,” it means the rest of the world leaving it alone to do as it pleases with dissidents and inconvenient minorities.

As the Russians have done, the Global Times portrayed the Capitol riots as America’s support for democracy movements and “color revolutions” circling around to bite Washington in the posterior:

Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University told the Global Times that the measure that Democrats and social media giants imposed on Trump and his supporters after the Capitol Hill riot is “a classic tactic for the US to overthrow a government overseas – using a conflict as an opportunity to incite the public by selectively spreading or muting specific information online,” to dominate the public opinion and create condition for a Color Revolution or a coup and eliminate a political force with made-up justification.

“The result has proven that the tactic is very effective. Trump and his supporters are doomed,” Shen said.

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The Global Times quoted concerns from Americans — from the American Civil Liberties Union to Republican congressman Devin Nunes — about the antitrust ramifications of big tech giants colluding to squash upstart competitors like Parler, an alternative to Twitter. This concern is difficult to accept as sincere coming from the state media apparatus of an authoritarian government that tightly controls every industry, directly owns many of the biggest competitors, and has a knack for making anyone who forgets Beijing is the mightiest monopolist on Earth disappear until they get their minds right.

The Global Times argument against Silicon Valley oligarchy soon mutated into the usual attack on capitalism, mixed with gloating about how democracies have a hard time coping with China’s coronavirus pandemic:

The establishment forces have shown their ultimate power to almost eliminate Trump’s political influence in the last week of his term, but they didn’t act so united and assertive to intervene in Trump’s governance before, even during the administration’s failed handling and misinformation that cost the lives of more than 370,000 Americans from COVID-19, Shen said, adding that “to these elites, the Capitol riot seems like much more harmful than the deadly and uncontrolled epidemic situation.”

This has shown that the power center of the US that empowers all establishment forces, politicians, media, social media networks and firms is still Wall Street, and there is nothing that can compete with the power of capital, [Chinese Academy of Social Sciences fellow Lü Xiang] said.

The article concluded with a prediction from Renmin University’s Jin Canrong that so long as “uneven development between financial industry and substantial economy” and “unfair distribution between elites and middle class” persist in America, “a smarter Trumpist with more sophisticated political skills might return to the game.”


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