Who are the international friends today?

(Background audio: Documentary’s narrative of Edgar Snow and others)

This documentary features Edgar Snow, the American journalist who first introduced the image of Mao Zedong to the world in the 1930s. It also mentions that Snow’s famous book “Red Star Shines in China” influenced the policies of U.S. President Roosevelt during World War II and U.S. President Nixon and others on China in the 1970s.

The “Times” of International Friends

In addition to Snow, Bai Quyen, a doctor who came all the way from Canada to provide humanitarian aid to the Red Army in China in the 1930s, is also talked about.

These figures are household names in China, so-called “friends of the world” often spoken of by the Chinese government. But beyond that, there are numerous foreign figures whom the Chinese government has labeled “international friends.

According to a 2011 statistic by the Southern Weekend, in the 60-odd years from 1949 to 2010, 601 foreigners, from 123 countries on five continents, were listed as “old friends of the Chinese people” in the People’s Daily, China’s official media.

They range from foreigners who visited Yan’an in their early years to those who have supported the Chinese government in the international arena since the establishment of the Communist Party, as well as businessmen who have done business with China. There is also a wide variety of industry types, including groups of foreign journalists, heads of international organizations, and doctors, among others.

Notably, the frequency of the title “old friend of the Chinese people” in the People’s Daily peaked after the Cultural Revolution and continued consistently until around the time of China’s entry into the WTO in 2001. Since then, the frequency of this title has decreased significantly.

Foreign correspondents who differ from Snow

The trend in this statistic is similar to the feeling of Dexter Roberts, China director of Bloomberg Businessweek, who has been a correspondent in China for twenty-three years.

“There started to be an atmosphere after this [after China’s accession to the WTO in 2001] that there was a perception that foreign journalists’ articles sometimes upset them and would report things that the Chinese side didn’t want to see. But at the same time, they thought they could still use these foreign journalists,” Luo Gu told the station.

Luo Gu arrived in China in 1995. He felt that in those days, China was more friendly to foreign journalists, who were sometimes referred to as “international friends. He realized that the use of economic journalists like him for China was to report to the international community about China’s investment environment and attract international investors.

Such a role seemed little different from when Snow introduced Red China to the world. But in 2000, Luo Gu arrived in Guizhou and reported on the wealth gap and the migration of migrant workers in China for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Since then, “migrant workers” seems to have become an obsession for Luo Gu. In March this year, the Chinese edition of Luo Gu’s book “Low-End China: The Party, Land, Migrant Workers, and China’s Coming Economic Crisis” (The Myth of Chinese Capitalism), a study of migrant workers at the bottom of Chinese society, was published in Taiwan.

This book, which reveals the fragile truth about China’s economic miracle from the perspective of migrant workers, clearly does not fit the official Chinese narrative.

Variations on “International Friends”

Luo Gu feels that the change in China’s attitude toward foreigners came mainly in 2008 and 2009, when the Beijing Olympics were successfully held and demonstrated China’s national power to the world. This was followed by the financial crisis that swept the world. There was a marked rise in the Chinese dynasty’s suspicious attitude toward the Western world.

“They’ll say, wait a minute, we’ve been learning from you how to open up the economy, make it freer and join the world. Now look at what you’ve done, like Lehman Brothers, you’ve created a global economic collapse, and we should be skeptical of your free economy and free markets,” Luo Gu, who was in China at the time, often heard Chinese officials or journalists around him utter to him.

Luo Gu concluded that the change in Chinese attitudes toward foreigners has mainly accompanied China’s journey to become a global power. This is especially true of China’s international performance in the past few years.

Emmelia Pang published her book Made In China: A Prisoner, An SOS Letter, And The Hidden Cost Of America’s Cheap Goods (produced by Radio Free Asia) in the United States earlier this year. Cheap Goods) (Photo by Radio Free Asia)

Amelia Pang, a Uyghur-American journalist who traveled to China in 2019 to do research, was warned by fellow journalists before she went that the Chinese government is hostile to foreign journalists. To avoid interference from the Chinese government, she applied for a tourist visa, not a journalist visa, to go to China.

During her research, Amelia felt that ordinary Chinese people are deeply influenced by the Chinese government’s propaganda on terms such as “foreign friends” and “foreign forces,” and that “their understanding of these terms is deeply emotional, because the Chinese government has complete control over public opinion. This is because the Chinese government has complete control over public opinion and people’s understanding of the outside world.”

Amelia herself is of Uyghur descent, but was born and raised in the United States and speaks Chinese very well. Her Chinese looks have facilitated and troubled her investigations in China. “When they found out I was actually from the U.S., I could sense an attitude of mistrust. Many people have expressed their thoughts to me that I don’t understand China, that I have been influenced by anti-Chinese propaganda, etc.”

Based on her fieldwork, Emmelia Pang published her book Made In China: A Prisoner, An SOS Letter, And The Hidden Cost Of America’s Cheap Goods in the United States earlier this year. America’s Cheap Goods,” revealing the human rights concerns behind cheap Chinese goods and the truth about the Xinjiang concentration camps that replicate and expand the reeducation-through-labor system.

What Happens to Foreign NGOs

Equally sensitive to the Chinese government’s attitude are foreign NGOs in China.

Labor Watch, a New York-based NGO, entered China in 2004 and began working for labor rights in China.

“In 2008, we set up an office back in China, and basically we were able to operate openly and recruit people without any major restrictions,” Li Qiang, founder of Labor Watch, told the station.

But the Chinese government’s harassment of these NGOs never stopped, and began to intensify around 2012. “First it was Shenzhen, which started cracking down on NGOs. At that time, the deputy director of a state security department in Shenzhen specifically came to our office and interviewed our staff.”

In the ensuing years, foreign NGOs have been subjected to a fierce storm in China, and the Counterintelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China, passed in 2014, identifies some foreign NGOs as “hostile organizations,” or “foreign forces” in official propaganda terms. “In April 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed the Law on the Administration of the Domestic Activities of Foreign NGOs, further limiting the scope of their activities in China.

In 2016, Peter Dahlin, a Swedish citizen and founder of the international human rights organization Human Rights Defenders for Emergency Relief, which aims to help China develop an independent judiciary, was arrested by Beijing police and detained for 23 days for interrogation. At the same time, Chinese official media CCTV broadcast a video of him being forced to confess guilt.

“They [the Chinese government] are paranoid, they think international NGOs are trying to work against the Chinese Communist Party. That may be true in some cases, but it’s not true in many cases. So what they’re doing is a kind of paranoia,” Peter Darling analyzed to the station after a five-year gap.

Darling was arrested because Chinese police relied on legal documents that suggested that the Human Rights Defenders Emergency Relief Association was funded in part by the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. nonprofit organization that the Chinese government considers to be “The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is recognized by the Chinese government as a “foreign power.

At the end of 2019, five U.S. nonprofit organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy and the American Association for Democracy in International Affairs, were designated by the Chinese government as “foreign powers. The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the imposition of sanctions.

According to Peter Darling, the Chinese government distinguishes between “international friends” and “foreign forces” based on whether they support the Chinese Communist Party. He mentioned that “the EU-China Friendship Working Group in the European Parliament, and many other such friendship organizations, all those organizations or individuals that can be used by the Chinese Communist Party are considered ‘international friends’.”

It is noteworthy that in the European Commission’s European-China Investment Agreement published in mid-March, Article 9 of Annex 2 provides that the Chinese government may refuse to allow foreign investors to inject capital into “non-profit organizations” in China, or to allow foreign “non-profit organizations” to open branches in China.

All the changes are the same

Nearly a century after Edgar Snow’s journey to Yan’an, the Chinese government still uses the terms “international friends” and “foreign forces” to classify foreigners.

Luo Gu told us that the political system controlled by the Chinese Communist Party likes to classify foreigners in this way in order to manipulate them and to help China rise and maintain the Communist Party’s authoritarian power.