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For 70 years, Chinese propaganda has been mastering the Art of Disinformation. Beijing’s rewriting history of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising is a classic example.
For several years, analysts have been predicting that Information Warfare (IW) would be an important part of any battle of tomorrow.
In 2003, China’s Central Military Commission approved the concept of ‘Three Warfares’, namely: coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; overt and covert media manipulation and legal warfare designed to manipulate perceptions of target audiences abroad. In recent years, Beijing has been intensifying its ‘media manipulation’. It was clear that after losing a battle in Wuhan (for more than two months the Chinese authorities hid the truth about the existence and the severity of the new virus), Beijing decided to counterattack.
Zhao Lijian, one of China’s sharpshooters, was appointed as one of the spokesmen of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Zhao, who served earlier as deputy chief of mission in Pakistan, is known for his nasty twitter attacks. Soon Zhao Lijian alleged that the Americans were at the origin of the virus: “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! The US owes us an explanation!” he reportedly said.
The US President was not long to join the fray. He dismissed the criticism that his labelling it the ‘Chinese virus’ was racist. Reuters commented: “Trump’s tougher language marked an escalation in a bitter war of words between the world’s top two economies that has widened to include the global pandemic and media freedoms.” During a White House press conference, after speaking of America’s “war against the Chinese virus,” Trump said, "I don’t know if you’d say China’s to blame. Certainly, we didn’t get an early run on it. It would have been helpful if we had known about it earlier. But it comes from China, and it’s not a question about that - nobody’s questioning that.” A friend of mine who has been lived in Beijing for many years told me once: “Trump is a ‘Chinese’, he speaks like them, he reacts like them.”
A text-book example of China's Art of Disinformation is Beijing’s rewriting the history of the Tibetan Uprising in March 1959. In the photo, the 23-year-old Dalai Lama and his escape party are seen crossing Southern Tibet while being pursued by Chinese military forces. (Photo: AP)
There is probably some truth in this statement; yet the fact is that for 70 years, the Chinese propaganda has been mastering the Art of Disinformation; to make something black look white. One text-book example is Beijing’s rewriting the history of the Tibetan Uprising in March 1959, which resulted in the flight of the Dalai Lama and his refuge in India. Though thousands of Tibetans were killed (even Chinese documents record this fact; just read Jianglin Li’s narration in her Tibet in Agony), China still celebrates every March 28 as the ‘Serfs Emancipation Day’; that day in 1959 the Tibetan opposition was finally crushed; China now trumpets that Communist ‘reforms’ could finally be implemented on the Roof of the World. Chinese propaganda argues that on March 28, 1959, the ‘serfs’ were liberated ...from the Dalai Lama’s hold, i.e. feudalism and theocracy.
Few witnessed these tragic events; fortunately for us, Maj SL Chibber, the Indian Consul General was on the spot and day after day, he sent ciphered dispatches to South Block, giving the details of the civil war which was going on in the Tibetan capital, Chibber wrote: “the might of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who on 20th March 1959, started an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped, untrained-Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, was short-lived.” In eight days, the Tibetans were annihilated. Maj Chibber's conclusions are worth quoting: “The future of Tibet is dark and only a miracle can save Tibet from the clutches of the Chinese Communist Colonialists”.
The Tibetan Government was dissolved and its functions and powers were transferred to a puppet Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region, “eighteen Tibetan members, labelled-traitors by the Chinese were dismissed and replaced by five Chinese and eleven Tibetans,” noted Chibber.
Beijing organised rallies to condemn the former Tibetan Government and the Imperialists, blaming the Indian expansionists for interfering in the affairs of Tibet; they also installed Military Control Commissions all over Tibet. Chibber commented: “In brief, the booms of Chinese guns and fire from their weapons, which destroyed buildings including religious places, large scale killing of Tibetans followed by mass arrests, departure of Dalai Lama and high-ranking Tibetan officials from Lhasa shattered the morale of Tibetans and they were left with no other alternative but to bow before the Chinese.” China immediately ran a well-planned disinformation campaign to show that the Tibetans had been ‘emancipated’. Many stark examples of rewriting history could be told, such as the Great Leap Forward, where 40 million died of starvation despite ‘bumper harvests’ announced by the Chinese or the Tiananmen massacre in June 1989, manipulated by Foreign forces.
After January 23, 2020, China did take drastic and efficient measures to contain the virus’s spread but why did they rewrite the history of the last two months? It seems crucial for the regime to win the IW now, to counter their economic rival, the United States and to convince their public at home, when ‘ordinary people’ are so upset with the Party for the way the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan was handled. What was the Communist Party doing during the first two months? The blitzkrieg against the facts is to divert attention; the full-fledged IW began when President Xi Jinping accompanied by Wang Huning, the propaganda boss in the Politburo’s Standing Committee and Ding Xuexiang, director of the Party’s General Office, visited Wuhan on March 10. Propaganda was at the Center stage. Even today, propaganda seems to be the foundation of Communist regimes.