- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For China’s notoriously conservative propaganda czars, the decision to allow President Obama’s inauguration speech to be beamed live into the nation’s homes was bold.

It backfired as soon as Mr. Obama said the C-word — communism.

Chinese who stayed up into the early hours to watch the historic swearing-in ceremony, looked on as the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) abruptly cut away from its coverage of Mr. Obama’s address when he spoke of how “earlier generations faced down fascism and communism.”

The censors didn’t wait to hear the rest of the offending sentence — “not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions” and proceeded to mute the Chinese interpreter, abandon the shot of the U.S. Capitol and seek refuge with a flustered studio anchor.

She in turn passed the buck to an unprepared analyst via video link, asking her to comment on the United States’ economic woes. What had begun as a promising exercise in openness degenerated into a familiar display of paranoia from the country’s publicity department.

Chinese newspaper readers didn’t fare much better. The official translation carried by the state news agency Xinhua omitted Mr. Obama’s reference to communism and wiped out a whole paragraph: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

The censored translation was published on the country’s main Internet portals Sina and Sohu. However, in another example of censorship struggling to cope with the power of the Internet, leading news portal Netease retained the reference to dissent, only removing the word “communism.”

Several Internet users posted their own undoctored translations of Mr. Obama’s speech and left angry comments criticizing the censors’ actions. Some posted YouTube links of CCTV’s hasty programming shift.

The English transcript of the speech, printed in the state-run China Daily newspaper, was unaltered. This version was also posted on some Chinese-language Internet forums with one commenter suggesting users “play spot the difference.”

The decision by CCTV to suspend its live feed of Mr. Obama’s inaugural address comes a week after the broadcaster was forced to defend its record in the face of a proposed boycott of its programs by more than 20 Chinese lawyers, writers and intellectuals.

An open letter published on the Chinese-language Web site Boxun.com titled “Boycott CCTV, Resist Brainwashing,” said the network had failed the Chinese people by bombarding them with propaganda.

Wang Jianhong, deputy director of the CCTV general editing department, told the Associated Press last week that “CCTV in the future will respect the discipline of news, use the truth to speak and stick to the principle of reporting truth.”

Yet the country’s state media chose the day after the inauguration to express official concerns that U.S.-China relations could dip under a new U.S. president.

Some observers say that China’s leaders will be sorry to see the back of George Bush, who has been heralded here for his free-trade policies and for not criticizing the Communist Party’s human rights record when in Beijing for the Olympics last summer.

“The guesswork here concentrates on how President Obama will position ties with China. Given the popular American eagerness for a break from the Bush years, many wonder, or worry to be precise, whether the new president would ignore the hard-earned progress in bilateral ties,” said a China Daily editorial.

After criticizing many of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy decisions and calling the Iraq war an “outstanding discredit to his country and himself, the editorial went on to praise Mr. Obama’s predecessor: “Let us be fair and honest — the Bush years were not devoid of merits. Anchoring relationship between the world’s single superpower and the largest developing country is no easy job. But the Bush administration managed it.”

Other Chinese are less nostalgic. Wu Xinbo, vice president of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, pointed out that the Bush administration’s moves to strengthen its military presence in the Western Pacific were “not in China’s interests.

“We are not really sorry to see Bush go,” he said. “We have been able to develop stable and cooperative relations with Bush but we believe that Obama is a healthy force for China-U.S. relations.”

He added, “We know that Obama’s priority will be the economy. This could create frictions, but we also understand that Obama is a smart, sophisticated person who has a full picture of China-U.S. relations. We understand he believes in globalization, and in these times of economic difficulty, globalization cannot flourish under protectionism.”

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