Last night BBC News report Michael Bristow filed a fascinating dispatch from Beijing:
China is launching an Arabic-language TV channel to show the Middle East and North Africa the "real" China.
China Central Television's station will broadcast news, entertainment and cultural programmes 24 hours a day.
It is part of the Chinese government's plan to promote its own viewpoints by encouraging state-controlled media organisations to go global.
I call this "fascinating" because it is hard to read this as anything other than a page from the American playbook. Back when I was doing business travel that frequently took me to both Europe and Asia, I was struck by the presence of American television, in one form or another, in just about every hotel room I occupied. Even when my wife and I were living in Singapore, American television (and all the values dragged along in its wake) came to us in abundance through not only three Singapore channels but also three channels we could receive from Malaysia. Furthermore, in terms of the values that were being communicated, it always amused me that it was through a Malaysian feed that everyone in Singapore could experience a weekly viewing of Baywatch.
So it does not surprise me that China should use the same strategy to promote its own values. However, it also struck me that this is a propaganda maneuver that can be directed just as easily at China's own Muslim population, particularly in Xinjiang, as at the Muslim communities of the Middle East and North Africa. Even if the native language of the Uigurs is Turkic, those who are the most devout Muslims are probably fluent in Arabic, possibly even more than they are in Mandarin. I have to believe that the Chinese are as aware as Americans of the powerful role that television can play in shaping the values of its own population, regardless of how it promotes those values in other countries. In other words China is on to our game, and we should watch carefully to see if they learn to play it better than we do!