Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Censoring Obama

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”
- Barack Obama,
Presidential Inauguration,
January 20, 2009

It seems that some Chinese state media got a little snip happy with President Obama’s speech. Not only was the “C” word above cut out, but so was another line: “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."

Cutting the reference to communism is understandable. After all, China is still arguably “communist,” but cutting the second line is troubling. Steven over at Lost Lao Wai Blog (http://www.lostlaowai.com/blog/2009/01/21/obama-speech-censored-in-china/) asked, does this mean that the authorities in Beijing think that they are “corrupt”, “deceitful”, of actively “silencing dissent?” Although Steven may be that cynical, I cannot join him on that proposition. Instead, I agree with his other proposition, that the removal of the select lines was knee-jerk paranoia.

By watching the video and the reaction of startled journalist and commentators, the decision to cut those lines was not a decision from “above” (a.k.a. the Government). Instead, the decision seemed to be an immediate reaction by whoever was in control of the video feed. That man or woman was not likely to be a governmental official. Instead, it was probably some media director/executive who did not want to get the state station in trouble for broadcasting rhetoric that was not agreeable to the Party: Better safe than sorry. Just this once, I believe the Chinese Foreign Ministry when they said that they did not have anything to do with the editing.

Furthermore, I doubt that there was reason to cut the lines. The editing of the speech illustrates the beliefs and self-awareness of Chinese executives’ more than it demonstrates American views of China. Just yesterday, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, congratulated Obama on his inauguration, and said in a speech at NYU, "It is the common aspiration of the Chinese and American peoples, and it serves our fundamental interests, to ensure healthy and steady development of the China-US relationship in the coming years and beyond.” Perhaps it’s a little naïve, but this time, I think that the American media is just having a field day over another Chinese censorship issue.

Plus, I don’t think the lines were meant to be insulting to China. Maybe I’m still in mindset of Obama Mania and he still can do no wrong in my eyes, but I don’t think Obama meant the line to be a cheap shot at China. US-China bilateral relations will be too important for his presidency to start it off on the wrong foot. Plus, he doesn’t seem to be one to proclaim fighting words meant to insult another nation.

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