Wednesday, June 22, 2022



June 23, 2022

Philip J. Cunningham

Why China’s ambitions in space should not be underestimated

  • While China was excluded from the International Space Station, it is building its own, has constructed the world’s largest radio telescope and expects to launch a powerful space telescope next year
  • Its accomplishments will benefit science in general and remind the US not to be complacent

Philip J. Cunningham

Published: 12:30am, 23 Jun, 2022



Chinese astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang wave before a send-off ceremony for the Shenzhou-14 crewed space mission, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China

China’s space programme may lag behind the US in accomplishments to date, but it is not to be underestimated. For example, the US-led International Space Station is bigger and has been in orbit much longer, but it is getting creaky and harder to maintain.

Then, there is the political fallout, since the project has from the start depended on close US-Russia cooperation.


For a decade, the US has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts back and forth from space. The US module depends on the Russian wing to make necessary course corrections. In 2020, the oxygen-supply system in the Russian module failed, but it was supported by oxygen generation from the US side.


China was famously excluded from the International Space Station in 2011 due to narrow-minded political concerns in the US Congress, codified as the Wolf Amendment, but it has done a remarkable job of dealing with the political necessity of going it alone.


Chinese scientists conducted yet another successful manned space launch on June 5, using a powerful Long March 2F rocket to carry three astronauts in the Shenzhou 14 capsule from a launch centre in the Gobi Desert to the Tiangong space station in near-Earth space. This is the third crewed space mission to the station in the past year.


The crew, all in their mid-40s, include two veterans of early flights. Chen Dong was in the Shenzhou 11 mission in 2016 and Liu Yang, China’s first woman in space, made her inaugural journey on Shenzhou 9 in 2012. Pilot Cai Xuzhe joined China’s space programme in 2010 but has never been to space before.


In addition to spacewalks and other scientific activities, the astronauts will oversee two important additions to the 16.5-metre-long core Tianhe cylinder, which currently houses the crew. By the end of the year, the space station will be built out to assume a T-shape with two new modules, one of which is an additional crew chamber. When finished, the enlarged habitable platform will be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station.


In December, the Shenzhou 15, similarly staffed with a crew of three, is expected to lift off for its journey to the space station. If all goes well, the Tiangong space station will be home to six astronauts as the departing crew will remain on board to welcome the new arrivals.

The Shenzhou 15 and the Long March 2F rocket are already on standby, in case of an emergency on the current mission.

China’s Shenzhou 14 mission begins mission to finish the Tiangong space station

What’s amazing is not just China’s ability to match US accomplishments in space station technology, but that it has simultaneously taken on extremely complex and ambitious projects aiming at the moon and Mars.


China’s perseverance in catching up with US accomplishments extends beyond manned space flight, which understandably gets the most media attention, to various remote missions and telescope projects.

China now possesses the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope in the form of the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope built in a natural basin in Guizhou in southwest China.


Arecibo, the groundbreaking US radio telescope built in Puerto Rico, collapsed in December 2020, but the scope and size of China’s FAST project eclipses the old standard bearer by many margins. FAST is already bringing in hard-to-obtain data about pulsars and interstellar molecules.


World’s largest radio telescope detects mystery flashes 3 billion light years away from Earth

China expects to launch the Xuntian space telescope into the Earth’s orbit at the end of next year, matching the size and acuity of the legendary Hubble Space Telescope launched by Nasa 32 years ago. The new optical telescope will be able to take in about 300 times as much sky as Hubble and to survey about 40 per cent of the sky with its 2.5 billion pixel camera.


It will collect information in visible and ultraviolet light and is capable of star mapping, studying black holes and detecting distant exoplanets and fast-moving near-Earth objects such as wayward comets and asteroids. It is designed to co-orbit Earth and dock with the Tiangong space station.


China is having another stellar year in space, which is good news for the march of science everywhere, and a not-so-subtle reminder to reigning space champ, the US, that it can’t take being No 1 for granted, but it must invest and strive to stay ahead.


Philip J. Cunningham has been a regular visitor to China since 1983, working as a tour guide, TV producer, freelance writer, independent scholar and teacher

Friday, May 6, 2022



Domestic news is primarily about the long May 1 holiday, mostly trains, planes and automobiles. it is followed by  CCTV's daily "Ukraine Situation" with a sober shift in gloomy greenscreen background and matching editorial stance. 


The only newsy thing about CCTV news today is its own treatment of Zelensky as a politician deserving of diplomatic respect, instead of a scoundrel who gets no face time or chance to talk, in paraphrase, or chyron quotes. 

Zelensky gets at least half a dozen cameos in the May 3 news cycle. 

But first, the situation at the Azovstal Steel Plant where evacuations proceed erratically. Over two days, 126 civilians were able to leave the underground redoubt.



Both sides accused the other of hampering evacuation and breaking the ceasefire, though CCTV, embedded in Russia-controlled Mariupol, only tells one side of that story. (hint: not the Ukrainian side)

Thus it comes as something of a surprise to actually get some news from the Ukrainian point of view, here taken from a briefing by the Ukrainian defense ministry. 



"Ukrainian troops are on the attack in the east"

Also taken from Ukrainian sources is this footage from Odessa. A Russian missile struck the building, killing one, "though this news cannot be confirmed" as CCTV goes on to say, in a rare display of journalistic skepticism, or maybe it's just a pro- Moscow hedge.

There is also footage of two Russian gunboats being obliterated by drone:



In another editorial shift, CCTV introduces Chinese military expert Cao Weidong to offer original commentary on the Azovstal siege.


Chen says it's important to Russia to get the civilians out of the way and close the humanitarian corridor "so they can unleash real heavy bombing." 

Using CCTV's all-but-patented "Ukraine Situation" (TM) borderless map of Ukraine, Cao explains Russia's strategy in terms of geography, command and control and wiping out the enemy's leadership, position and personnel.

I guess they don't call the mild-mannered Cao an expert for nothing

When Donetsk is under wraps and Azovstal extinguished, Mr. Cao says it's time to head west to take control of Mikolaiv...And, then, of course, Odessa.

By connecting the dots, Russia consolidates its holdings in a line and will control the entire coast of Azov and the Black Sea

Cao Weidong's analysis is illustrated with Russian Defense Ministry footage, mostly Z's in action. 



Mr. Cao talks rather favorably of Russia's war effort, in his mind, things are about to change, explaining that Azovstal is the real ace in the hole.

Without a presence there, Ukraine has lost its best negotiating chips.

In other news, the US is supplying Ukraine with M777 mobile howitzers. 

And this rather harsh segment segues into a gentle series of stories from Kiev, using what appears to be pool footage of various press conferences and meetings. 

It's almost neutral. Don't usually see much of this on CCTV.

For it's not every day the Chinese TV viewer gets treated with pleasant scenes of controversial Kiev instead of the usual postcards from best friend Moscow.


And who's this?

 It's Zelensky!

The Ukraine President is next shown meeting Antony Blinken.


And a medley of photos show Zelensky in conference with US delegation members Blinken and Austin to talk strategy.

In a lengthy segment on Europe, Zelensky is also shown meeting with EU commission head Ursula von der Leyen.

Well, wouldn't you know. Yet another shot of the man whose face was kept from the Chinese public for so long.

Zelensky again, as recorded during his May 1 meet with Nancy Pelosi in Kyiv.



But CCTV hasn't gone soft on NATO, they still view it with the utmost suspicion.

Why all the weapons? They ask. Why the howitzers? Resident military expert Mr. Cao says they're giving Ukraine planes and tanks and "everything but nuclear weapons."



Why the large-scale NATO exercises? 

The Baltic countries in highlighted in yellow, including NATO applicant Finland, helped hosted war games in March.


So did Greece and Macedonia.


CCTV co-anchors Wang Yinqi and Shang Liang express their disapproval.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov does, too. He is quoted as saying that NATO is extending the war .

Duma chairman VyacheslavVolodin chimes in with chilling words:

"leaders who supply weapons to Ukraine should be considered war criminals." 

In sum, May 3 saw a unprecedented willingness to countenance Zelensky who has gotten short shrift on Chinese TV up until now.

As for the US and NATO? Well, still in the doghouse, and likely to remain there.

If your "everlasting" friendship with Russia makes it awkward to criticize Putin for his brutal and gratuitous war of invasion, you gotta blame someone.


Saturday, April 23, 2022


A man carries a bicycle along a street filled with destroyed Russian military vehicles near Chernihiv, Ukraine, on April 17. Photo: AP


Philip J. Cunningham

How Chinese state media paints an alternative picture of the Ukraine war

  • The Beijing media sphere has created a parallel universe where the Russians are the good guys and the real villains are the US and Nato
  • This narrative accords with Moscow’s contempt for the idea of Ukraine’s sovereignty and gives viewers a twisted, incomplete view of events

Ever since February 24, the day Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border and began firing missiles and dropping bombs, Beijing has had to balance itself on a narrative tightrope based on its twin policy of leaning towards Russia and away from the US.

While much of the world’s media has tuned into the tragic and heroic spectacle of outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian defenders trying to outfox the Russian invaders, the Beijing media sphere has created a parallel universe where the Russians are the good guys and the real villains are the US, Britain and Nato.

In the Chinese narrative, Ukraine is granted little or no agency. The CCTV graphics department, for example, posts maps in which Ukraine doesn’t have borders, as if it were not really a country.

Given Beijing’s hyper vigilance about maps that don’t include Taiwan, this is lazy, if not careless. It inadvertently accords with Russia’s contempt for the idea of Ukraine as a country at all. The undrawn borders also avoid the map conundrum about how to delineate Crimea and the Donbas region.

CCTV and other mainland media have had to bend over backwards to produce Ukraine content in keeping with guidelines. It’s so hard that many Chinese TV producers appear to have given up trying and instead import the news directly from Moscow, following the lead of the Kremlin news releases.

Although the leaders of Russia and China might not be best friends for much longer, for the time being, Beijing is playing a tricky game of avoiding material support for Russia while giving Russian President Vladimir Putin everything he wants in media terms.

Almost every day in the CCTV news cycle, at least one Russian politician is given precious airtime. There have been days when it looked like Izvestia and Russia Today had been invited to guest-host CCTV News.

Repeat appearances include Putin, of course, as well as Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Putin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, former president Dmitry Medvedev and Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Duma.

In addition, CCTV has relied heavily on the Russian Defence Ministry for comments from spokesman Igor Konashenkov and reports from camera crews embedded with Russian troops in Ukraine. Colourful stock views of the Kremlin, Red Square, Arbat Street and various ministry buildings are nightly fare on CCTV as it translates and posts Russian state media releases without comment or question.

Some of the material has editorial value, offering insights into how Russia defends its unilateral thrust into Ukraine to itself and the world. However, the CCTV copycats swallow it without a murmur of disagreement.


But that is only the passive half of the narrative strategy. The active half is to relentlessly blame Nato and the US. Chinese outlets have repeatedly insisted that the transatlantic alliance “forced” Russia to take action against Ukraine. The way they show it, guileless viewers in mainland China might well believe Russia is the victim here.

One suspects that the twisted logic and verbal gymnastics may be distasteful even to CCTV’s veteran news readers and stable of military and political guest commentators, despite their acquired expertise of massaging the news to fit party dictates.

The early thrust was to blame everything on the eastward expansion of Nato. A more recent variation on that theme is blaming its northern expansion now that Finland and Sweden are considering joining the alliance.


Another strategy to distract from the fact Russia initiated the war while Nato sat on the sidelines is to emphasise the flow of weapons into Ukraine. Western news agency photos of weapons being unloaded in Poland are a staple visual on CCTV, as is file footage of the forbidding-looking Nato headquarters in Brussels.

The foreign intervention argument has intensified, with footage of prisoners of war captured by Russia, including a handful of Britons. That tens of thousands of Russians have entered Ukraine, guns in hand, is left unsaid. Since the start of hostilities, both Russia and China have shared media taboos stipulating that the war is not to be described as such, and the word “invasion” is not to appear at all.

It is Orwellian to disappear words and deny something in plain sight, but it also serves other purposes. Russian revanchism sees Ukraine as a land it is free to plunder, which does not construe an invasion. By not calling the war a war, Moscow also has a plausible excuse for slow progress and even stunning losses, such as the sinking of the flagship Moskva.

The implication is that Russia would win easily if it was really fighting a war, but this is just a “special military operation”. China goes along with this ruse, content to characterise the whole mess as the “Ukraine situation” devoid of cause or effect.

To date, the strongest language CCTV has used is “conflict,” but that is changing. This week, it introduced a sly new narrative suggesting the “conflict” can be pinned on Western media. A CCTV reporter in Moscow is shown on CCTV-13’s report of April 18 asking questions about the Western media’s “invasion” of Ukraine. Such is the Orwellian universe that Beijing wants true believers to accept.

Philip J. Cunningham has been a regular visitor to China since 1983, working variously as a tour guide, TV producer, freelance writer, independent scholar and teacher. He has conducted media research in China as a Knight Fellow and Fulbright Scholar and was the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. He is the author of Tiananmen Moon, a first-hand account of the 1989 protests in Beijing.

Link to original SCMP post:

Saturday, April 9, 2022



The Morning News in China, April 10, 2022


Today's program vividly embodies China's anti-West shift in foreign policy. The April 10, 2022 news presentation illustrates an editorial stance in keeping with the tentative emergence of a Beijing-led axis including Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Pakistan on the one side, with the US, NATO, Japan and the rest of the West on the other.


The "situation" in Ukraine is relatively quiet today which gives CCTV a chance to do what it does best; shower praise on supporters and belittle detractors. Zhang Anqi and Wang Yan bring you news of this neatly divided world with cool professionalism and aplomb.


Today's victims? Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Palestine.


The perpetrators?  US, NATO, Israel and Germany. 


France gets a pass.


While the CCTV has yet to mention Russia's invasion of Ukraine, let alone criticize the violence, NATO and the US continue to get blamed for almost everything from "starting it" to faking massacres and lying to the world. EU is now described as the economic wing of NATO, and US the ringleader, suggesting the world is well on the way to dividing into two camps.


US and NATO aim to "destroy Russia"


NATO is supporting Ukraine, of course, and since it goes against CCTV policy to say anything negative about Russia, it’s safe to assume that US and NATO are the cause of the "conflict" and the real war mongers. 
Russia, strangely enough, is frequently portrayed on Chinese TV as the victim of US aggression.

Now, China likes to think of itself as a polite country, and it likes to stick to diplomatic protocol. So, let's suppose you want a proxy to stick it to America, to rail against US imperialism.  Who do you call? 


You can't do much better than call on Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro. He shares his view that the US is imposing "information dictatorship" on the world. CCTV features him speaking loudly in Spanish in his own voice, with a great deal of passion and hyperbole.


The US “anti-humanity propaganda dictatorship is installed in the media...and this might well lead to utter destruction and World War Three.

Russians don't get a lot of air time today on this morning's news, but when they do they look mad.  

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova is fuming as usual and the dour head of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, looks aggravated to say the least. Where's Putin?

Next, China has some words of caution to Germany, which will suffer if Europe continues to blindly follow the US lead and oppose Russia. Not only will there be shortages of fuel and food prices will go up, but Germany won't be able to produce its famous cars any longer.


"Without Russian natural gas... Germany cannot produce glass"


Friend of Russia and China, Imran Khan is in the news. He was the first leader to visit Putin in Moscow after the declaration of hostilities with Ukraine, but just lost a no-confidence motion to remain in power as Pakistan's prime minister.  


But don't worry! China-Pakistan relations remain rock solid.




And now, on to Tehran. Iran is an excellent go-to partner for Beijing when it wants to distance itself from DC and make the US squirm a bit.



Remember this cool-looking dude? China does. It's not that April 10 is an obvious anniversary or anything but they chose this day to remember a strike that took place on January 3, 2020.


It's a slightly out-of-date story,  but still powerful because it's shocking and it's true. CCTV reminds viewers that the US assassinated Iranian commander Qasem Suleimani at an airport in January 2020.

The flaming wreckage of his car shown below.


China television takes at face value Iran's declarations concerning its nuclear intent, repeating Iran's official line.



“Iran has but peaceful intentions for its nuclear industry.”


Wow. Iran gets a news trifecta from CCTV today!

Besides talk of "atoms for peace" and seizing a boat for smuggling oil, there is a big story about Iran filing a complaint against the United States for violation of law and human rights. Iran's righteous complaint, backed by careful documentation, is directed against a small number of nefarious US citizens.

And then the program then segues to a news update from the Middle East. 

China has been on fairly good terms with Israel, at least until Tel Aviv belatedly joined the US-led gang to impose sanctions on Russia. Israel gets slammed for two bombings in the news, the first in central Syria, with no further details, the second a strike of armed Palestinian personnel on Jordan's West Bank.


It's been a long slog through some difficult territory, but the news is almost over. What kind of world are we living in?  


The lengthy friends-of-China news segment is now finished which leaves just enough time for CCTV to cover the election in France

     CCTV has a reporter on the ground for this story.

There is speculation that Macron may benefit politically from the Ukraine "situation." There is also speculation that he might not benefit from the Ukraine "situation."

The international news segment concludes on a sad note. It's a stunningly-photographed story of a tragic drought in Somalia and other parts of East Africa that has put fifteen million people at risk.



Back to China, for a timely update from Shanghai, where everything is under control. The party is meeting people's needs with help of color-themed volunteers. 



CCTV's in-house anchors are especially moved by the dedication of red volunteers. It's really something else, isn't it? And many of them are members of  the Chinese Communist Party. Traditional Chinese medicine is also being distributed for treatment.

And what's this? There's an unexpected coda, though perhaps in keeping with the persistent tendency to go easy on Russia and hard on the US, it is predictable. Irate that the US consulate in Shanghai is moving its people out of town because of uncertain and declining conditions, CCTV shows file footage of Covid testing in the US, followed by pictures of Biden with US lawmakers.


 The message is duly somber:

“More and more important political figures in the United States are getting infected with the coronavirus.”


The brief report mentions Nancy Pelosi in particular and slyly suggests that a number of other infected individuals have been in close proximity to President Biden.


And that’s it. And now for the weather…..