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…..


Thursday, April 7, 2022



CCTV's Morning News on April 8: Still no mention of invasion, war or massacre, and no attempt to correct the previous day's reports denying a massacre ever took place in Bucha. Get ready for some news with a distinctly pro-Russian point of view.


Key interviews include FM Sergei Lavrov, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Unusually for CCTV, the Russians speak in their own voices, translated with subtitles instead of getting paraphrased by the usual voice-over narration.

Thus, the Bucha massacre is a fabrication, Russia's invasion is not acknowledged, the US is waging war through sanctions, it's all NATO's fault, especially the US, and Russia and China are the only two countries really serious about peace and bringing an end to the violence.


Lavrov claims that the gains made in the Istanbul peace talks have been ruined by the US which is manipulating Ukraine's Zelensky into continuing his opposition.


Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman reports on the success of Russia's high tech weapons in striking Ukrainian positions  with footage provided by Russian Ministry of Defense.


 In a short segment describing the latest news on conflict, with word that Luhansk is the scene of fighting, CCTV mistakenly labels the above shot featuring Russia's Defense building as "Ukraine."

Russia's Prime Minister Mishustin addresses the Duma. 

He says that despite being unfairly hit with unprecedented, record-breaking sanctions Russia will not collapse but stand firm. "They need our gas."


Mishustin: Russia hit with more Western sanctions than any country ever

Prime Minister Mishustin assures the Duma and the nation that despite heavy sanctions, thanks to the efforts of the Russian government, the economy will return to normal.


 And the view from the Moscow street?  Everything is just fine.

Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov is next up in the all-star, all-Russian celebrity line-up.


He echoes Foreign Minister Lavrov's complaint saying that peace talks are upset by the actions of Europe and America's delivery of weapons.

"Sending weapons to Ukraine does nothing to help the peace talks"


CCTV's "journalists" voice the same complaint, wondering why Ukraine has shifted its position in the peace talks.The implication is that Ukraine, with the US and NATO maliciously scheming behind it, and fueling the fire with weapons, is not interested in peace.


The CCTV studio anchors have been at it all morning, including in the first report of the day key elements of the previous night's news. They are crisp, poised, professional. Their comportment is exemplary and have certainly done a sober job of echoing Russian propaganda. 

I'm not sure they believe what they're saying. Does parroting the party line ever convince anyone? Is it the idea just to make you not think?


It's hard not to get the feeling that China has ceded control of its foreign policy and is letting Russia take the lead. Beijing chimes in when it comes to bashing NATO/US, but lets Russia do the heavy lifting on Ukraine strategy and loyally promotes its propaganda to the world.


Xi Jinping's policy is to let Russia wage its war of brute force, and give them unprecedented access to the airwaves of China to convince the people of China how successful it is, and when news of the horrific violence begins to filter through, pretend what you really cared about all along is peace (on terms favorable to Putin) the kind of peace that comes after tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and the cities, towns and villages of Russia's neighbor have been razed to the ground.

Thus, according to CCTV, the Bucha massacre is a fabrication, Russia's invasion of Ukraine goes unmentioned--there is a conflict, of course, a dust-up is referred to as a "situation."  Meanwhile, the US is waging war through sanctions, it's all NATO's fault, especially the US, and Russia and China are the only two countries really serious about peace and bringing an end to the violence.


And that's it folks, the Kremlin follies, the story of what's not happening in Ukraine today, courtesy of China Central Television, broadcast fresh to you from the citadel in Beijing on Friday morning April 8, 2022.

And if you believe what Beijing's foremost information specialists are telling you about what is happening, and not happening, in Ukraine, then I've got a bridge to sell you, in Tiananmen Square.