China and Russia: US Administration Flailing, Attempts To Save Face Bring More Embarrassment
The Fall out from America's Abandonment of Afghanistan Continue to Dominate News in China and Russia
#1: America Struggles With Afghanistan Fall Out, Taliban Begin Crackdowns
Afghanistan dominated Russian headlines for the third week. Gloating over the Western humiliation was still prevalent in pieces such as “In the United States, it was declared that Biden lost the support of the American military” in Lenta.ru, owned by oligarch Vladimir Potanin’s Interros mining conglomerate. The title referred to a quote by former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, which also was featured in an article in Vzglyad, owned by the government-aligned Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies.
But the reality of a jihadi-controlled Afghanistan began to sink in, with the Russian embassy evacuating some staff. RIA Novosti, part of state-owned TV Novosti, RBC, part of the partially state-owned energy conglomerate ESN, Gazeta, owned by the Central Bank, and NTV, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, reported on the Taliban’s ban of music among other crackdowns. Russia conducted military exercises in Tajikistan as covered by state newswire TASS, state television and radio company GTRK, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a subsidiary of TV Novosti. Nonetheless, Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Taliban were ensuring the security of Russian diplomats in a story covered by Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s leading newspaper and part of ESN Group, Argumenti i Fakti, owned by Moscow City government, and TV Zvezda, the television channel of the Ministry of Defense.
Ekho Kavkaz, part of the US-funded USAGM, reported on the Taliban killing of a popular folk singer, while an op-ed in the same outlet was deeply critical of the American withdrawal, lamenting the “tragic fate” of Afghans, the withdrawal’s “strengthening the ideology of radical Islam” and America’s “serious reputational damage.” Crimea Today, also part of USAGM, lambasted the American failure to evacuate allies.
#2 The Russian School Year Begins With Celebrations and Solemnity
September 1 marks Knowledge Day, the national holiday where children across Russia begin the school year. Channel One, Russia’s most popular TV channel and a joint property of the Ministry of Economic Development, National Media Group, and TASS, reported on Vladmir Putin’s visit to a children’s center in Vladivostok. Putin stressed the importance of studying history, explaining “Disregard for these seemingly fundamental principles affects the fate of entire states, this is clearly seen in the example of the United States and Afghanistan.”
Since 2004, the week has had somber overtones as the anniversary of the Beslan school siege, when Chechen rebels seized a school in the South Caucasus, leaving over 300 children dead in the ensuing shoot out. September 3rd, when the siege violently ended, is now an official holiday, The Day of Solidarity in the Fight Against Terrorism. NTV, part of state-owned energy giant Gazprom and Russia’s third television channel, reported on the memorial service in Beslan and interviewed parents of victims, as did National Media Group’s REN TV and Channel 5. The City of Moscow’s Argumenti i Fakti reported on activist efforts to remove extremist content online.
Despite widespread criticism at the time of Putin’s handling of the siege–including from then-independent Izvestiya ultimately leading to its takeover by Gazprom–opposition outlets were generally deferential to the memorial services and omitted mentions of the botched rescue attempt that led to the shoot out. The independent Novaya Gazeta published a podcast on the events, focusing on Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist deeply critical of the regime who was assassinated three years later. Radio Kavkaz, part of USAGM, reported on demands by mothers of the slain for further investigations.
#3 Roscosmos Announces A New Space Station
Russian plans for a new space station were widely reported, including in Grozny TV, part of Chechnya’s State Television and Radio Company, the City of Moscow’s Argumenti i Fakti and Moscow 24, TV Novosti’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta, among others. The head of Roscosmos, the state space agency, appeared on Komsomolskaya Pravda, part of ESN, to announce a five to six year timeline, which was in turn reported on by National Media Group’s NTV among others. The move is spurred in part by structural damage to the Russian section of the International Space Station, as reported by the Ministry of Defense’s TV Zvezda and Lenta.ru.
Ekho Kavkaz framed the cracks as part of a larger pattern of Russian equipment on the International Space Station failing, highlighting a 2018 hole in the lining of the Soyuz spacecraft, caused by engineers drilling in the wrong place, and followed by further air leaks in 2019 and 2020. Ekho Moskvy, part of Gazprom, reported that the Russian segment of the ISS will only survive until 2025.
People’s Republic of China
#1 U.S. Ships In Taiwan Straits A Direct Provocation, Won’t Make Up For Afghanistan
Two ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet passed through the Taiwan Straits on August 27th, a “provocation,” according to Yangtze River News, owned by the Hubei Provincial Committee of the CCP, and an attempt to save face following Afghanistan. People’s Daily, the official paper of the Central Committee of the CCP, said the action “fully demonstrates that the U.S. is the biggest destroyer of peace and stability”.
The Heina Observation Room, a popular nationalist blog, declared “Taiwan independence is scared!” in response to a report by the Taiwanese Defense Ministry on possible pretexts for a Mainland invasion of Taiwan. Taiwan Straits News, part of Fujian Daily of the local party committee, reported on Taiwanese media begging pro-Independence media to reconsider their stance to the mainland after Afghanistan. Minnan Net Nanping, a nationalist website, also reported on Taiwanese media questioning the reliability of the US, declaring “Afghanistan Today, Taiwan Tomorrow.”
Voice of America Chinese, part of the US-funded USAGM, responded that the Taiwan Straits are recognized as international waters and highlighted a cooperation agreement between the coast guards of the United States and Taiwan. Radio Free Asia, also part of USAGM, promoted stories showcasing American commitment to Taiwan and denouncing Chinese official media’s attempts to compare Taiwan and Afghanistan. The BBC Chinese framed the action as a response to increased Chinese military exercises in the waterway.
#2 Remains of People’s Volunteer Army Soldiers Returned
South Korea returned the remains of Chinese soldiers killed in the Korean War, as reported in the State Council Information Office’s Strategic Security and Arms Control. The story was also covered in local government outlets in Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Szechuan, Yunan, and Zhejiang among others. The occasion was an opportunity to commemorate the People’s Republic’s only major war featuring pitched battles against American forces, as highlighted in the PLA Daily. CCTV, the main national state broadcaster, released a documentary celebrating the sacrifices of the “heroes” and “martyrs” of the People’s Volunteer Army. A Weibo post on the subject from People’s Daily garnered 14.5 million shares, among the most of any Weibo post ever.
Opposition outlets did not report on this story
#3 China Dominates at 2020 Paralympics
The People’s Republic currently holds more gold medals than any two countries combined and 73 more total medals than #2 Great Britain at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Several events have seen Chinese competitors claim multiple medals such as women’s 50M freestyle, as reported by national state broadcaster CCTV, a clean sweep in men’s backstroke, gold and silver in men’s 50m butterfly and women’s 50m backstroke, as reported by CCTV News. Forty regional outlets in addition to national outlets and a dozen national outlets. Paralympic stories accounted for more engagements than any other story in China, after the story on the return of the remains of PVA soldiers. In the United States, by contrast, stories on the Paralympics did not pass the top fifty most engaged with stories.
BBC Chinese has offered regular updates on the Paralympics. Chinese USAGM outlets have not covered the events.