A German film crew was recently attacked and held hostage in China for being ‘foreign spies’. Their crime? Reporting on pollution at a Do-Flouride factory (1).The act of Chinese nationals, kidnapping and then beating a foreign crew, show not only an increase in the xenophobia and intolerance of foreigners on Chinese soil (2), but also the impact of China’s recent campaign against non-Chinese.

This harrowing experience is a brutal reminder of the growing instability in China today. While big business and corporate-run media in the U.S. will not share news of such anti-foreign events inside of China, these events are of growing concern to the expat population in China.

The fear of a coming revolution is ever present.

Some Background

A crew of four German reporters were doing a story on pollution in a plant at Zhengzhou, China. In the process of filming, the Germans were surrounded by local Chinese who worked for the polluting plant.

The Chinese workers surrounded the Germans, calling them foreign spies.

The journalists were allegedly beaten and then kidnapped or ‘taken into custody’ by the workers of the Chinese company. The Germans had done nothing wrong and the actions taken were by the firm and not by the local police.

The local police showed up, but were mostly impotent to help. The Germans were forced into hiding, with a minimal level of protection from the local police who were reportedly frightened as well.

Anger grew within the Chinese mob, which then called for the death of the ‘foreign spies’. Although the local police tried to intervene, it was to no avail. The Germans had to endure nine hours of this until a Chinese SWAT team arrived, finally liberating them.

The act of the Chinese workers shows the negative turn that has arisen from the tightening of the Chinese economy and ‘anti-foreigner’ campaign and propaganda by the communist party.

The implications of this action are dramatic. Are foreigner business people safe inside communist China today?

Growing Xenophobia in China

I reported here at TSW about the stabbing death of an American, and the recent Chinese ‘anti-foreigner’ campaign and its impact (3).

The horrific treatment of the German film crew further proves how the seeds of dissent sewn by the communist party of China is successfully causing a hatred for foreigners.

This is part and parcel of what I covered here earlier here at TSW (4), which is how the communist party is the catalyst of social disintegration. The Chinese are frustrated at being ruled by a kleptocracy which no longer seems to have their best interests at heart.

The rise in dissent by the Chinese corroborates this claim (5)(6).

The reaction of the ruling communist party is two-fold – to stoke the seeds of dissent and to build the economy.

The economy is slowing down, which leaves the communists only one option to shore up their legitimacy. This option is to create a need for the party. The way they accomplish this is by creating a foreign force against which the Chinese must be protected.

In one of her books that is banned in China, Susan Shirk claimed that much of the rancor that Chinese have for foreign nationals is misplaced anger towards the communist party (7).

She stated that absent a healthy forum to vent frustration, ie free press and freedom of speech, that the Chinese will take any opportunity to show their anger. This notion may be at play in Zhengzhou as well.

Media Blackout of the Kidnapping

The lack of media coverage of this event is due to several factors.

Firstly, the Chinese need foreign investment and disdain to print such news. Companies do not like risk, especially political risk. If it were known that the communists were losing their grip on control, foreign businesses would flee.

If this were to happen, the Chinese economy would collapse.

Western companies are also guilty as they share a similar need. The western companies need to shed a positive light on China so that they can justify moving company business here.

If it were to get out that legitimate foreign business people and reporters can be beaten and kidnapped at the will of the locals, foreigners would begin to question the practicality of further involvement with communist China.

Regarding the Chinese point of view: the Chinese government is in the midst of a push for ‘soft power’. This ‘soft power’ is a means of painting the communists in a positive light.

In order to achieve this, the Chinese media fails to cover events that will make them look bad in the eyes of the West. They also enlist the support of the Chinese “fifty cent army”, which are people paid to say great things about China on the Internet (several of them can be found commenting often on this very site).

State Mandates on Media Coverage

What this means is that there are state mandates on what the Chinese media can report on.

In addition, the communists even tell the media what ‘spin’ they should put on their reports, such that they present the communist leadership in the best light possible. In light of such goals, it is very difficult to explain how China can welcome foreign investment and foreigners on the one hand, while a group of those same foreigners have been kidnapped and threatened with death.

Western firms are in a similar position. They have convinced us that China is changing and the Mao’ist days have passed. They would like us to believe that China is embracing the “rule of law”, which is a far cry from being true.

In their desire to increase profits by exploiting China’s lax regulations, laws and respect for human rights, business would like to maintain the status quo and hope the American public remains blissfully unaware of the truth.

Once Americans learn of the brutal realities inside of China today, those Western businesses would lose legitimacy as well.

In the end, it does not further the goals of communist China nor big business to tell us the truth about what is happening here in China. The squelching of the truth, however, is just as dangerous as it is wrong.

Times are getting tough in China, and foreign firms would be wise to reconsider their commercial position here in light of these developing changes. Some professionals here compare present day China to pre-Castro Cuba – a very real time bomb just waiting to explode.

References & Image Credits:
(1) ABC News
(2) In a country such as China which is still populated by hundreds of millions who grew up berating the west as evil capitalists and clamoring for their demise, it is no wonder that such acts of violence are so prevalent. (Here is a graphical depiction of how China viewed the west. All of China’s present day leaders grew up with this belief. )
(3) China Suspicious of Foreigners
(4) China Military Confrontation
(5) Wall Street Journal
(6) The Freedom of Chinese People
(7) From her book, which is banned in China. The book is China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise
(8) SeattlePi