A Russian government-funded television network has echoed Chinese state media claims of foreign interference in Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, airing an English-language documentary accusing US officials of “open collusion” with demonstrators in the city.
The release by Russia Today (RT) of the documentary, Hong Kong Unmasked, comes as Beijing and Moscow have upgraded their ties to a “strategic partnership”.
The production focuses on the protests that have rocked the city since June and cites Beijing’s claims of interference in Hong Kong’s November district council elections, in which pro-democracy candidates won all but a handful of seats.
“Although there seems to be a conscious choice to brand this surge of protests as a leaderless movement, individuals, political parties and organisations are giving this movement its direction, and US officials are openly colluding with this opposition,” RT reporter Michele Greenstein says in the production.
China has repeatedly protested over what it regards as unfair international media coverage of the movement.
In August, China’s foreign ministry sent a 42-page document to foreign media outlets including Reuters, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal in a bid to present them with Beijing’s side of the story.
Artyom Lukin, a researcher with the school of regional and international studies at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, said that the partnership between China and Russia was about more than diplomatic ties – it also involved the media and international images.
“Moscow is demonstrating that it’s ready to stand by Beijing on the global stage, in terms of this media war of competing narratives on what’s going on in Hong Kong. The West has its narrative, but Russia and China are presenting their own,” Lukin said.
“Recently, they have this common adversary – the United States – and one of the fronts in their rivalry or competition with the US is the mass media front.”
China and Russia have been teaming up online as well.
In October, the countries signed a cooperation agreement aimed at combating illegal content on the internet. There have also been at least two Russia-China online media forums since September involving news media and government representatives.
In November, Russia also enacted a “sovereign internet” law, which observers say has similarities to China’s internet controls as it expands officials’ ability to restrict traffic on the Russian web.
Claire S. Lee, an assistant professor at South Korea’s Inha University and author of the book Soft Power Made in China, said media cooperation with foreign partners was important for China because it “aspires to be a global power”.
“It’s important for China to have foreign media outlets who support its views. If there are more than a few countries who have [what China considers] good opinions about controversial issues, that might be useful for China,” Lee said.
But the impact overseas might not be that strong if such reports only come from a handful of political allies of China, she said.
Yik Chan Chin, a media and communications professor from Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, said that whatever the effect, the Russian move would be welcome.
“For the Chinese government, if they can at least present their views and their perspective to the international audience, they will welcome this kind of influence,” Chin said, adding that while the impact on Western audiences may be minimal, supportive coverage like the RT documentary “may help in respective countries where [Russia has] influence”.
One place where the Russian production received a positive response was in China, where subtitled segments of the documentary posted on RT’s official Weibo account last week were shared thousands of times.
“Thanks for all your hard work,” one user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote. “There are not many media that can help China in public opinion.”
“Can you invite RT to report on Xinjiang?,” wrote another, referring to “unreliable” Western reports of human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in the western China region. “It's all malicious interpretation.”
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