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G20 media coverage: Chinese medicine the order of the day

G20 media coverage: Chinese medicine the order of the day
Published 12 Sep 2016 

The overall image presented by Chinese media coverage of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou is that of a kindly and omniscient apothecary (China) telling all its patients (all the other G20 countries) what medicine they should take to treat their ills. The references to 'curing', 'treating' and 'medicine' suggest only China knows how to remedy the maladies of the global economy. Such confidence in China's economic management reflects the view in China that its global influence has increased.

So what are these magic cures? According to an editorial in the English People's Daily, it's China's 'great wisdom' that has allowed China to advocate for a 'world economy that is more innovative, open, connected, and tolerant'. In the words of an editorial in the influential Caixin magazine, 'Chinese characteristics' are the cause. Another article in Caixin elaborated; instead of calling the communiqué a Chinese plan it would be more accurate to call it a 'coordinated Chinese-led global plan'. A Global Times English opinion piece noted that the Hangzhou Summit demonstrated China's ability to make contributions to the 'unity of the world'.

The confident coverage of China's 'economic growth with Chinese characteristics' was no doubt influenced by President Xi Jinping's keynote address at the opening ceremony of the B20 summit. In his speech (given the English name 'A New Starting Point for China's Development, A New Blueprint for Global Growth'), Xi provided a four-point blueprint, 'the four constructs', to found a more inclusive and balanced global economy. These four points called for encouraging greater innovation, building a strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economy, encouraging greater global integration and expanding global development. [fold]

A Xinhua editorial hailed Xi's speech as a success. It credited China's leadership of the G20 with overcoming differences within the organisation. It also praised China for giving the G20 the injection of new ideas and guidance it needed to continue leading the global economy. Unnamed 'experts' in an English language People's Daily article concurred with this point, noting that China's reforms have 'injected hope and stability into the world economy'.

However, a Chinese Global Times editorial was more circumspect, observing that even though China had written an effective prescription, if China did not follow this up with concrete actions then it would have all been in vain. The author suggested that China should lead by example by following the communiqué and encouraging other countries to do so as well. 

Nevertheless, China's hosting of the G20 and its reform agenda earned the highest tick of approval, with Bill Gates writing an opinion piece in the English language Global Times in praise of China's development agenda. In his article, Gates commended China's efforts in eradicating poverty within China. He also expressed his optimism that China will continue to make great headway in its own development, while also helping other countries make great progress of their own. 

While Western media seemed fascinated by the perceived snub of Obama, there was very little Chinese media reporting of the incident. In a press conference, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticised the coverage by the Western media and stated that the incident should not be 'overstated'. She noted that 'China attaches great importance to Sino-US relations'. 

There are a number of possible explanations for this muted coverage. One is that China wished to appear stately. Given the narrative of China as a global leader leading the world out of the economic doldrums, it would hardly be dignified for China to be seen hyping a diplomatic incident. Another is that China did not wish the signing of the Paris agreement to be overshadowed by negative press coverage towards Obama. While even Weibo was unusually silent on the perceived snub, there was high traffic of a critical nature towards Obama following controversial comments from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Coverage of the G20 Summit overall tended towards the prescriptive, informing the international community of the best methods of economic management. But this coverage is in fact more revealing of the Chinese vision of itself in the global order. Although China happily recommended a cure for global economic ills, it is still to be seen if China will stick to the treatment plan and lead the global economy on a path to recovery. 

Photo: Getty Images/Pool

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