Without having thought this through in the least, it strikes me that the Chinese authorities are essentially just public relations practitioners. Basically, the job of a PR person is to convince people that A is in fact B. Or in somewhat less glamorous terms, their job is to polish turds.
The Chinese have been polishing a Tibet-shaped turd for some time now.* Along with labour practices, internet freedom, press freedom, democracy movements, blah, blah, blah.
Take this quote from the ABC news story on Kevin Rudd’s visit to China:
Tibetan Regional Government chairman Xiangba Puncog also disagreed with Mr Rudd’s comments and echoed Mr Si’s view on human rights.
“Australia, or other countries, should have better appreciation and understanding of the fact that people in Tibet are now enjoying democracy and have wonderful human rights protection, and those remarks are totally unfounded,” he said.
Okay, I don’t want to get too bogged down in the whole Tibet saga, but a quick Google of ‘china tibet’ brings back plenty of evidence to suggest that Rudd’s comments, far from being unfounded, were in fact, err, founded. But it also occurs to me that Mr Xiangba Puncog probably doesn’t have access to certain Google search results because they’ve been barred. I looked for his Facebook profile so I could ask him, but he doesn’t have one of those either.
The trouble with China’s PR people is that they have been doing it for so long they have lost the subtlety, the ‘art’ of spinning. Now they are just lying. They are saying “A is B”, where they should be saying “the evidence supporting A is inconclusive at the moment, but the Chinese government remains fully committed to an inclusive, detailed study – which engages a range of stakeholders – to ascertain whether A is A, or A is in fact B.”
People still won’t believe them, but they will glaze over ten words into the statement.
The other reason the Chinese authorities have become lazy is because they have an enormous f***ing military machine behind them. Which, let’s face it, any PR person would love to have:
PR person: “Hi, I’m calling from Salmonella Travel. I’m wondering if you would be interested in writing a story on our fantastic holiday packages to Moe…”
Newspaper: “That sounds absolutely shit. No.”
PR person: “Umm, could you just have a look out your window?”
Newspaper: “Why the hell would I…..HOLY SHIT!! A tank! And a battalion of riot police! Damn, get me to Moe.”
PR person: “That’s what I thought…”
Finally, the evidence that the Chinese PR machine is rusting up is in the naming of their government departments. In Australia we use nice fluffy obscure names like ‘Public Affairs’, ‘Community Engagement’, or ‘Media Department’. But in China? The Ministry of Propaganda. Come ON you guys, you’re not even trying! Just call it the Ministry For Writing The First Thing That Comes Into My Head That I Reckon 1 Billion Of You Suckers Will Swallow. It’s the worst PR blunder since Wayne Carey spoke to New Idea.
But the main thing I know about public relations is this: if you want to make a public relations crisis go away, fix the problem that’s causing it. China, has anyone in your PR team actually thought about laying off the Tibetans and leaving them alone? I’m telling you, that would be an instant good news story.
*I’m going to stop that analogy because otherwise it will just get progressively uglier…