How Bellicose is the Global Times? Checking the Record on US-South Korea Naval Exercises

Here in Seoul there has been a great deal of attention paid of late to China’s increasingly truculent response to the planned US-ROK Navy joint exercises planned near the northern sea limit line with North Korea.  Perhaps China is uncomfortable with the location: the wide patch of ocean in which the drills would take place is about 750 kilometers from Tianjin, and far closer to the mouth of the Bohai Gulf than China is comfortable with.  And as North Korea has made clear, the drill makes them extremely apprehensive, and when North Korea gets itchy, China gets a rash, too. 

Yesterday in the Korean version of the Chosun Ilbo ran a huge article about the proposed drill on page 3, focusing on China’s dissatisfied response.  The thing was littered with quotations from our favorite Chinese periodical of record, the Global Times, which is otherwise known as the Huanqiu Shibao (环球时报).

Here it bears repeating that the relatively new English version of the Global Times is a much-toned down and far from complete version of the Huanqiu Shibao which is the actual organ of influence in mainland China.  Most of the time when a story comes out from Reuters or Chosun Ilbo quoting a “Global Times” editorial or story, that story doesn’t actually appear in the English-language Global Times, but in fact in the Chinese-language version which is in fact called the Huanqiu ShibaoBut in neither case does anyone bother to provide a link or a translation of anything more than a few offending sentences.  And thus we are left as Anglophone readers with a vague sense of dread: China is getting so radical and belligerent!  How, why, or where that radicalism or belligerence is expressed is left for the reporters to figure out.  What’s important is that our emotions line up with where the newspaper wants them to line up, and that we then make the kind of decisions we have been making since 1950.  In other words — and as even French intellectuals have been arguing in the New York Times — there is nothing more important in our approach to China than very large nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.  Because otherwise China just doesn’t get it.

Take for example this excerpt from today’s English Chosun Ilbo –  from a story which, in the time I’ve been working on this post, has now been bumped up to headline status on the newspaper’s homepage — about China’s response to the forthcoming drills off of Korea’s west coast:

The state-controlled Chinese media have been slamming the planned exercise. The Global Times, a sister newspaper of the official People’s Daily, in an unusually harshly worded front-page story on Wednesday said Seoul has “delusions” of putting pressure on Beijing through the exercise.

“The U.S. and South Korea are using the UN as an excuse to pressure China over its stance on the sinking,” the daily quoted a Chinese academic as saying. In an editorial Tuesday, the same paper said the drill is a clear challenge to China’s security. “Considering the growing economic, diplomatic, political and cultural ties the U.S. has with China, the price the U.S. has to pay for its irresponsible decision will be higher than it can envision now. If the U.S. does not pay for this ‘adventure’ now, it will pay in the future,” it added.

This is obviously important news, but the vagueness of the presentation should raise a few questions for you as a reader.

“Unusually strongly worded”?  And which “strong words” would those be?

“A Chinese academic”?  Yes, of course, that one!  Excuse me, who? [It's Shi Yuanhua (石源华), who just happens to be head of Korean Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.  This would be like quoting David Shambaugh and attributing the quote to "an American scholar."  Does that make any sense at all?  Perhaps the Chosun Ilbo editorial staff believes that all Chinese academics speak in one voice, and thus, their names are of no significance.  Fortunately for Shi, he has appeared on multiple television shows (video here), and can therefore be said to exist.]

“A Tuesday editorial”?  Could I at least get a title or a link here, great newspaper of record?

In order to get answers to these very basic yet ultimately significant questions, must I really enter the Global Times‘ own PRC-government approved website and thereby drench my cerebrum with inescapable borderlines of embarassingly voluptuous advertisements and ridiculously caricatured photo galleries of drunken Westerners, both of which coexist strangely with calls never to forget Japan’s 1937 invasion ?  Yes, it appears, I must.

But first I have to march over to the Chosun Ilbo’s Chinese-language page (which is a great source for news about Kim Jong Il, by the way), and find the actual, Chinese quotes, because “Tuesday editorial” doesn’t cut it:

最近几天,中国不断以激烈言辞声讨韩美联合军演。《人民日报》旗下的《环球日报》7日在头版头条刊登了标题为《韩妄图用黄海军演压中国 专家称美韩对华不友好》的文章。中国官方媒体在批评韩国时使用“妄图”二字,这是非常罕见的事情。

《环球日报》援引中国学者的话报道说:“韩美把联合军演的时间推迟到联合国安理会发表声明之后,其实就是想告诉中国,不配合韩美制裁北韩的话,美军航母就 会参加军演。韩国正在公开对中国施压。”《环球日报》也曾在6日社论中说“对中国的安全构成了挑战”和“但同样应该记住冤冤相报的道理”。

Thanks to the magic of Google, we are now blessed with the original source to which the Chosun Ilbo refers, the Global Times/Huanqiu Shibao editorial entitled 《韩妄图用黄海军演压中国 专家称美韩对华不友好》, or, “South Korea’s Futile Attempt to Pressure China with Naval Exercises in the Yellow Sea: Experts Say US-South Korean (Actions) Will Displease China.”

Is this really an “an unusually harshly worded story?”  (Just be glad they didn’t quote from the 800+ netizen comments on the story; now those are harsh.)  Well, the title is certainly bracing, and the Chinese version of Chosun Ilbo explains in better detail how the use of the word “wangtu 妄图” with reference to South Korea was itself “hanjian 罕见,” or “rarely seen.”

But that’s the headline rather than the story, and everybody knows that headlines are always a bit exaggerated.  That’s part of the fun with the Global Times: the paper makes a profit because it’s more fun to read than, say Cankao Xiaoxi or Renmin Ribao /People’s Daily.

So is the the Chosun Ilbo correct?  Was the story itself harshly worded?

At this point the only thing to do is translate the whole article in the interests of clarity, which I may do at some point soon.  But in fact by way of overview, the article itself is fairly moderate and expresses only a bit of frustration by the Global Times reporter in Seoul who can’t get an answer to the key question in the Chinese security point of view (a point of view which is never expressed in the Chosun Ilbo, naturally) that the exercises threaten the Yellow Sea and China’s gateway to Beijing and Tianjin.  And how often, by the way, does a Chinese spokesperson for the PLA or Foreign Ministry get an entire paragraph quote in a major American newspaper?  Because the Global Times gives an American military spokesman the floor for a long paragraph in this article.  But wait a second, that’s a killer headline!  And don’t forget that China is bellicose!

If you really want something more interesting in the Global Times by way of pushback, I recommend the following piece by a scholar at China’s Institute for Strategic Studies:

郭亚东:不妨积极应对韩美军演 /// Guo Yadong: China Might As Well Take a Proactive Approach in Responding to South Korean-U.S. Military Drills, Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), July 8, 2010 [translated by Adam Cathcart]:

近段时间,有关韩美联合军事演习中美国核动力航母是否进入黄海水域广受关注,多数媒体及专家学者的关注点都集中在美核动力航母进入黄海后对我京津门户的直接威胁,以及对我国安全半径和防卫边界的挑战,国人为此不开心者甚多。其实,在面对难以避免其发生的挑战或威胁时,不妨以积极的心态,采取积极的措施去应对和化解。派出海军兵力到公海上去主动“莅临观摩”,既能化解困境,还可能会有一些军事上的“意外收获”。 The recent announcement of possible South Korea-US joint military exercises has caused wide concern: Will the United States send nuclear-powered aircraft carriers into the Yellow Sea?  Comments by most media and expert scholars have centered upon the direct threat [直接威胁] which the entry of American nuclear-powered aircraft carriers into the Yellow Sea would pose to the naval gates of Beijing-Tianjin.  As such an act would challenge both the radius of our country’s national security and the defense of our border, many fellow countrymen [国人] are not happy. In fact, facing the prospect of averting unimaginable challenges or threats, we might as well adopt a positive attitude and take active measures to deal with and resolve the situation.  In other words, send a naval force to the high seas to initiate “a formal visit for observation and emulation” which can dispel any doubts about our predicament and provide a few military “windfalls.”
中国是韩美军演的隐形目标,这是一个基本的政治判断。表面上看,韩国在不断推进对朝鲜的强硬姿态过程中,战略魄力与军事自信不足,希望美国海军航母战斗群为其壮胆。实际上众所周知,朝鲜海军实力根本不及韩国海军,更别提与美国海军相比。China is the invisible goal of the South Korean-US military exercises: this is a basic political judgment.  On the surface, in its approach to North Korea, South Korea continues to push forward a hard-line stance [强硬姿态] even as its strategic daring and military self-confidence is lacking.  Perhaps they hope that American aircraft carrier battle group will provide them with the courage they need. But in reality, everybody knows that North Korean naval power is basically even less than that of the South Korean navy, let alone compared with the U.S. Navy.

然而,美国硬要派出庞大的核动力航母打击群到中国近海进行针对朝鲜的演习,其背后的寓意不被怀疑才怪。特别在美国执意推动对台军售和美军高层频频发表对华强硬言论之后,美航母打击群的剑锋所指更难让人相信只是朝鲜。因此,在韩美“牛刀杀鸡”式的军演中,中国不是无关的看客,而是一个被隐形了的目标。 However, the U.S. insisted on sending an enormous [龐大] nuclear-powered aircraft carrier strike group for exercises directed against North Korea in China’s coastal waters; it would be impossible to doubt that the Americans intend any other hidden message with this action.  Particularly given the U.S. insistence on pushing arms sales to Taiwan and after the frequent issuance of high-level tough talk on China, it is hard to believe that the real “point of the sword” of the U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is directed toward North Korea.  Therefore, in the South Korea-US overkill (ed.: literally, “use a cow-slaughtering axe to kill a chicken”)-style of military exercises in China, China cannot remain a disinterested spectator, but must itself have an invisible goal.

因此,中国对于首次进入近海的美国核动力航母的态度、立场和应对措施很重要,具有示范意义。如果美军航母战斗群每次到中国近海活动时都会遭到中国海军“围观”或“透视”,或将有助减少或避免公然挑战中国防御界线事件的发生。Therefore, in setting China’s attitude for the first entrance of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier into nearby waters, the position and response measures are important because they set an example. Merely being a spectator every time the U.S. sends an aircraft carrier battle group to China’s coastal waters will hardly result in a reduction of open challenges to the Chinese defense line. ▲(作者:郭亚冬,海军某研究所战略研究学者。) ▲ (author: Guo Yadong, naval scholar at Institute of Strategic Studies.)

For Whom are the US-ROK Naval Excercises Intented? click image for Huanqiu's big news page

For more interesting Huanqiu/Global Times links as regards this story, just peer into, become mesmerized by, scoff at, merely peep or otherwise feast upon my Twitter page Or you could just read JustRecently’s take on the situation, which includes translations from extracts of a Phoenix/Southern Weekly article on the same subject.