Saturday, February 22, 2020

KICKING CHINA WHEN IT'S DOWN

PHILIP J CUNNINGHAM

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on the warpath again. He continues to serve up propaganda for his cause, speaking loudly and carrying a big stick. His latest "we-are-the-world" junket for team USA took him across Europe and central Asia and, almost as an afterthought, to the continent of Africa, a part of the world notably dissed, dismissed and ignored by President Trump. The subtext of Pompeo's touring on the taxpayer's dime is China, China, China. Forget the good old says of soft-power and winning hearts and minds. Pompeo's got a hard-on for hard-power and it shows.  in the name of countering Chinese influence. 

Pompeo, who has made soundings about a possible shot at being president after Trump, has been showing quasi-clinical signs of megalomania as of late. He didn't last long at the CIA, but long enough to learn a few dirty tricks. An utter failure as a diplomat, he now strives to convert the US State Department into a Langley-style HQ of subversive influence. It's both his bailiwick and fortified watchtower.

On February 18, 2020, Pompeo took aim at the Chinese media, one of the few media empires that will never do his bidding. Still, it's not hard to find fault with state media anywhere, and Chinese media, especially its outreach in English, is outright silly and rarely convincing. To poke fun at China's overseas propaganda push is about as hard as shooting fish in a barrel.  Not that such a sport is to be denied the torch and pitchfork crowd. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton wrote to Attorney General Robert Barr (another high-end sycophant of Donald Trump) asking that China Daily be investigated for its attempts to present China's point of view and influence American opinion.

What could they possibly be worried about?

As someone who has written for China Daily, I have no illusions about it. At it's best, it gives its young Chinese staff a chance to practice journalism, though journalism is not always possible. It's a paper with little or no influence, distributed mainly to embassy desks, hotel lobbies and a few schools where it functions not as an opinion leader but a cheap way to practice reading English. 

Doesn't the embattled Attorney General Barr have bigger fish to fry than that?

Under Pompeo's direction, the US State Department, which ironically enough, is also in the propaganda biz,  overseeing the pro-US output of Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and countless glossy pamphlets, stipulated that Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and The People’s Daily were henceforth to be technically deemed as "operatives of the Chinese state."

Hello? Anybody there? Like VOA and RFA? (Not to mention CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox) Is that China's crime? Seeking to share its worldview?

This unusual, unprecedented and basically useless reclassification of Beijing's media mouthpieces is basically toothless, but it reflects a Manichean worldview in which China can do nothing right and the US can do nothing wrong.

The State Department seems as confused by the novel classification as anyone, and it’s not sure if the prickly declaration will adversely affect the ability of Chinese reporters to operate on US soil.  In the very least it burdens China’s state-run media with cumbersome filing requirements and excess red-tape, but Pompeo is not one to shrug from petty provocations.

Pompeo is an equal opportunity abuser of the press, he treats the media with disdain everywhere he goes. He acts as if he’s doing American journalists a favor when he deigns to answer a few innocuous prearranged questions and bristles when real questions get asked. He has verbally attacked and publicly humiliated journalists who mistakenly thought their job was to probe, question, and speak truth to power. He surrounds himself with lackeys and like-minded ideologues and gets abrasive when real questions are asked. 

The Secretary of State even went so far as to administer a map test to NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly who had the temerity to ask a question about Ukraine, a place where Pompeo’s underhanded activities recently reached fever-pitch. The NPR journalist passed the “map test” with flying colors, disproving his arrogant assertion that Americans didn’t care about Ukraine. He then petulantly punished NPR by barring Michele Kelemen, NPR’s diplomatic correspondent, from scheduled travel with the press corps which is part of her job.

So this pompous man, who got a bad rap for attacking US journalists as a flex his own power, is now having a hissy-fit about the possibility that China's very second-rate media might have a tiny bit of influence.

It's not just the hypocrisy, though, but the timing that makes this full-spectrum war on China odious. Pompeo acts as if he is the acting head of an ugly anti-China cabal that includes Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio. They in turn are supported by the nutjobs at the Washington Free Beacon and other opportunistic right-wing ideologues gunning for a new Cold War if not kinetic battle. 

Pompeo's State Department is just one of several branches of the US government that has a bee in its bonnet about China, starting with a coordinated attack on Huawei, getting off to a blazing start by directing the arrest of Huawei heiress Meng Wanzhou while in Vancouver during airport transit. Then there are various China-scare stories placed in pliant and compliant US media outlets, ranging from hacking stories to back door devices and tainted micro-chips. The US propaganda-meisters are so tone-deaf as to make the sleazy, careless information stealers and abusers at the predatory US company Equifax look like sympathetic "victims" of data loss to Chinese hackers.

Oh, and did I mention South Sea tensions? Not the sea south of America, but the sea south of China.

Pompeo has weaponized US diplomacy by using access to intelligence as a weapon, drawing on his tenure at the CIA to spike his “diplomatic” moves with information power. Knowing secret things about foes and allies alike allows one to subtly blackmail, cajole and coerce. Former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover perfected the American version of this ancient black art of which Pompeo is clearly a practitioner. 

Pompeo has recently been at odds with Trump, so his tenure at Foggy Bottom could end any time now. His most recent tirades have served to undermine Trump’s basically pro-business agenda, a conflict that broke out into the open on the European leg of his propaganda tour. Pompeo went too far in bullying allies by refusing to share intelligence and otherwise browbeating those who don’t get on board his anti-Huawei, anti-China train.

The joke of Pompeo blowing the whistle on China's state media is that he is not a defender of journalism, but a consummate anti-journalist. 

He uses information to throw shade instead of light, he trades in secrets instead of transparency. He asks journalists to serve his agenda as tools and scribes. He doesn’t want them shining light in dark places. He can’t comprehend the journalist’s penchant to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. 

The devilish glee and unbecoming eagerness of Pompeo to kick and humiliate China when it has been knocked down by the COVID-19 epidemic is deplorable. 

Beijing is understandably preoccupied with containing, for its own sake and the sake of the world, a terrible contagion of unknown dimensions. That Pompeo chooses a time such as this to double-down on his attack speaks volumes about his character.