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Chinese Media Coverage of Recent Clashes Demonstrates Balancing Act Alexander B. Pevzner
GPO News

Chinese Media Coverage of Recent Clashes Demonstrates Balancing Act

25 October 2015

How Israel and the conflict are covered by the Chinese media? A very different approach compare to the Western media, detached from sentiments to either side

The Chinese media is highly interested in Israel. This is attested by the fact that there are five different Chinese media outlets that have permanent representatives in Israel, including Xinhua News Agency (China’s official news agency), China Central Television (CCTV), and China Radio Int’l (CRI), as well as two daily newspapers.

The daily coverage of the mainstream Chinese media usually focuses on Israeli technology and innovation, the situation in the Middle East, Israel – US ties, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In days of relative calm, the Chinese media covers mostly technology and innovation, unlike the Western media that focuses almost exclusively on the conflict.

All Chinese media is owned by the state, and as such, express the official Chinese policy. China has broad political and energy interests in the Middle East. Still, in recent years, and especially since PM Netanyahu’s visit to China in 2013, China has been fine-tuning its foreign policy in the Middle East as it positions itself as a power with a voice in all global diplomatic issues.

Thus, recent reports from Xinhua and CCTV on the various attacks perpetrated by Arabs against Jews carry factual headlines, unlike headlines from some Western media outlets that tend to confuse the attackers and the attacked, or blame the violence exclusively on Israel.

For instance, a video report by CCTV on the terror attack at the Central Bus Station in Be’er Sheba on Sunday had the headline “A further escalation of tensions between Palestinians and Israel - An attack on a bus station leaves one Israeli dead and 11 wounded.”

A report by Xinhua on the night of the attack also gave the details and quoted the police spokesman. The Xinhua articles summarized the article by noting the recent escalation of tensions in the past three weeks, without apportioning blame or analyzing further, and ends by quoting the victim tally from both sides of the conflict.

The recent terror actions did not even interfere with the usual focus on technology. For example, Xinhua carried on Monday a photo-report introducing the Weizmann Institute. Still, the above does not suggest that China is firmly in Israel’s camp. On the contrary, China has traditionally supported the Palestinian cause in the UN.

What the balanced coverage suggests is the peculiar and nuanced nature of the Chinese media. Firstly, where the reporter is based influences the coverage, with reports from Israel usually tend to be more balanced. Reporting on the Arab-Israel conflict by Arab countries-based Chinese journalists, or by Arab stringers from Gaza are more negative in their attitude toward Israel. Almost all the major Chinese outlets base their regional headquarters in Cairo.

Secondly, compared with the West, the Chinese media is still heavily underrepresented in Israel, leading to translations of reports about the conflict from various Western media outlets, which usually take a critical view of Israel. For instance, China News Service (CNS), the country’s second-largest news agency after Xinhua, carried an article about the shooting in Be’er Sheba that quoted a Russian report about an attack in the “Palestinian (sic) town of Be’er Sheba.”

CNS does not have reporters in Israel. A later, more extensive report by the very same CNS, and quoting sources from Reuters to Al Jazeera to the Jerusalem Post, safely “returned” Be’er Sheba to Israeli sovereignty, demonstrating perhaps the relative unfamiliarity of Beijing-based editors with the reality on the ground.

The operative conclusion for Israel from the above analysis is to increase engagement with the Chinese media on all levels. This is one of the goals of the Chinese Media Center (CMC), who acts as a media bridge between Israel and China.

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The author is the founding director of The Chinese Media Center (CMC), at the School of Media Studies of The College of Management Academic Studies, Rishon LeZion, Israel.