Disdain and Doubt Over Shock and Awe

In China, the War in Iraq is getting unprecedented media coverage. But are the Chinese watching the same war? While CNN and other western-based media outlets put their own particular spin on the war in this, the fourth day of the American invasion of Iraq, they generally agree on that victory for America is at hand.

On CCTV-9 (China Central Television), China’s major English news channel, the spin on what they call "The War on Iraq" is quite different. Indeed, if you believe Chinese News on this, the same fourth day of the same campaign, the "invaders" may have bitten off more than they can chew. Juxtaposed with images of Iraqi soldiers picking through pieces of downed American jets, are interviews with Chinese military strategists are giving their own spin on why Iraq will be a far tougher nut to crack than Western viewers might think.

Zhang Tianping, a top Chinese military analyst, was somewhat dismissive of the American "Shock and Awe" strategy. "The American ground warfare is still being fought like the second world war." He said "But Iraq, having lost all of its advanced weaponry after the first gulf war, has become quite adept at guerrilla tactics. This will allow Iraq to harass and stall US troops while worldwide anti-war sentiment grows." The Chinese have a high regard for the use of guerrilla tactics against a better equipped force – after all, without such victories the People’s Republic of China might have been snuffed in the cradle.

Another military analyst, Zhang Zhaoxhong, was probably a bit too forthcoming to make American prime time about what he believes are the true objectives of "the belligerent states." "Their driving force is to control the oil of Iraq." When questioned about the American president’s personal motives in light of his varied perceived flip-flops on the matter, Mr. Zhang said that "Only Mr. Bush himself knows what his objectives in this war are."

While maintaining a certain professional neutrality, some Chinese broadcasters have let slip their own opinions on the war. One correspondent, in what might have been a telling slip, invented a new word to introduce what western journalists are calling simply a military action.

"The US-led attacktion is entering it’s fourth day," she said.

And unlike American broadcasts, reported from "embedded" journalists, Chinese broadcasts are anything but sanitized. While viewers in America may have missed the video showing a three year old boy swaddled in dirty bandages crying in an Iraqi hospital after being caught in an American missile attack, tens of millions of CCTV International News viewers didn’t. It was replayed several times over an hour broadcast, along with the cries of the boy’s father screaming "America, where is your humanity?"

As I write this, CCTV-1 (China’s main channel, broadcasting in Mandarin) is showing live feed from the outskirts of Baghdad of the Iraqi hunt for the downed US pilots. If the American media is trying to get the world to buy into the image of Iraq as a helpless, near-decapitated nation, the Chinese media is going in the opposite direction, broadcasting press conference being given by Iraqi officials. A clearly relaxed Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf proved that rumors of the regime’s demise had been exaggerated by cheerfully stating in English for assembled media that "It is the aggressors who are shocked and awed – to use their own language, which I would rather not."

Chinese television is also giving major coverage to worldwide anti-war protests, including this tidbit not seen on CNN.com about "A demonstration outside of CNN headquarters in Atlanta, protesting the cable networks pro-war bias in their coverage of the war." The effects of these demonstrations on troop morale are likewise being discussed. Tao Wenzhao, an International Affairs Expert, had this to say about what caused an American soldier to hurl three grenades into an officers tent in Kuwait. "Clearly, with all of the protests going on around his own country, he must have begun doubting his role in the war, and his nerve must have cracked."

And it isn’t just a government-approved spin on the story being consumed throughout China. Viewers and readers in China are enjoying access to the once-forbidden fruit of western media. CNN broadcasts are being translated on state channels, and recently blocked websites like CNN.com and www.nytimes.com are now open for anyone with an internet connection.

For now, the government seems to be keeping all the pipes open, as if the powers that be know instinctively that any way its spun, pictures of American bombs falling and American soldiers marching in foreign lands drive home the image of America as an imperialistic aggressor in ways that Chairman Mao could only have dreamed of.