Don’t be played by Chinese propaganda

National Day Raly 2016 Lee Hsien Loong
The South China Sea, an important trade route for Singapore

If over the past week you find yourself taking sides on China’s diplomatic battle in the South China Sea, you may have fallen victim to their cunning propaganda. The principal weapon deployed here is state controlled media the Global Times.

Here’s how they did it:

It started with a burying of facts deep in complicated stories about diplomatic meetings. Stories which an ordinary person wouldn’t care about. They then spun simple stories about how Singapore has chosen to side with the United States on the South China Sea row. A military chief then goes to press with with threats of sanctions and retaliation, based on an erroneous report in the Chinese newspaper.

There is a Chinese idiom for all of this. It’s called “自导自演“ – a phrase that tells of how one directs and stars in his own play. It describes how one can create a ruckus out of thin air.

To appreciate the matter, one needs to cut away the complicated story about the Non-Aligned Movement to reveal this fact: that it all started with bad reporting.

Here’s the summary:

a.) The Global Times spun a story about how Singapore is stirring up problems in diplomatic meetings regarding the South China Sea.

b.) Singapore rejects the report as false and inaccurate reporting.

c.) The Global Times editor (Hu Xijin) defended the report. All he can say about its sources is that it is “written based on information from sources whom are “serious and reliable”.


This whole fiasco started with poor journalism and weak sources. When publishing a story that has the potential to fracture diplomatic relationships, you would expect the editorial team have verified, recorded or at the very least have a duty to be present at the meetings. The Global Times wasn’t even at the meetings.

One would have difficulty in believing all this was the product of negligence or accident.

The Global Times is no small setup. The English editorial team was funded with some US$6 billion. It is reported to have hired some 700 staff and their site serves 15 million visitors a day.

The outfit is owned by state newspaper People’s Daily. The People’s Daily is in turn owned by the Chinese Communist Party. Global Time’s Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said in an interview that he was close to the security and diplomatic circles of the CCP and that they shared his paper’s editorial stance. “They can’t speak wilfully, but I can,” he was quoted to have said.

Does this all not sound like an elaborate setup to deliver messages at command?

As of today, Singapore has not yet publicly taken sides and because we’re not a claimant state there is little reason to rush such a decision. If we indeed have become a victim of propaganda and manipulation, the question to ask is: why? What is it of value to China that they have to have us on their side?

I am not suggesting that we ought to kowtow to China and back off from diplomatic talks on the South China Sea row. Hardly. The day that Singapore becomes fearful of standing up against big nations, is the day that we would lose our relevancy as a nation.

I am saying that even if the day comes that we chose to take sides in this matter, then let us be the one to announce it. No foreign media is going to play us into a game we did not sign up for.



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About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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