This is a delicate time for the Chinese media, as the country faces a recrimination from abroad for having given birth to the coronavirus pandemic and the worst economic figures ever recorded.
So what are the majority state-controlled media, and the wildest but still censored social media, about the historic contraction of 6.8% of the Chinese economy in the first quarter of 2020?
First, write the bad news, highlight other events, and quickly move on to other topics. Second, highlight the bright spots and, in the case of this economic collapse, the signs of a rebound. And thirdly, allow specialist or niche outlets some freedom to talk about the real situation so that market players in the system can have a real conversation about it.
The resumption of factory production, office work and retail sales, as well as strangely stable unemployment figures, were common themes in most media since the release of GDP data on Friday.
The Communist Party’s flagship agency, the Communist government, Xinhua, has taken a forward-looking approach, with the main title: “Bent not broken: China’s economy bounces back from Q1 pains.”
“Although China’s GDP fell 6.8% in the first quarter, the unemployment rate, residents’ incomes and electricity consumption point to a robust Chinese economy,” Xinhua wrote, adding, “Resilience of the Chinese economy has not lost its strength, but it has become more evident. and clear. “
The most popular editorial on the nationalist website of the Global Times insisted that “during a wartime economy, jobs, not GDP, should be the horn of the bugler” reporting distress. The convenience here is that China’s employment figures are even more opaque than its GDP statistics, which themselves are often ridiculed for perceived manipulation.
Global Times added that “-6.8% of GDP in Q1 is the result of a crisis rather than the mirror of its economic fundamentals. The contraction cannot be viewed in a historical context, as economic activities during a pandemic are incomparable with those of normal orders. “
China frequently issues private directives to the media when major events occur. Their escape provides a window into the functioning of the relationship between the state and the media in times of crisis or public relations turmoil.
A series of guidelines for coronaviruses were released last week to the China Digital Times, an independent media watch group affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley. The guidelines recommended an approach consistent with the three-pronged strategy described above.
Regarding the promotion of light points and alternative subjects, the main Chinese outlets published dozens of stories over the weekend about its supply of medical equipment and its epidemic expertise around the world.
The positive push of the news is not only to divert the impact of management’s economic problems, but is also part of a campaign to revive the Chinese economy, analysts said. And to discuss how to proceed or what has not worked in recent months is an ineffectiveness that Beijing cannot tolerate.
The Chinese model, unlike democracies, “offers efficiency” in terms of costing dissent, said Surya Deva, associate professor at City University of Hong Kong.
And the economic stimulus package is bolder than most filmmakers. Just before the release of the GDP figures, China quietly released a document outlining the far-reaching reforms it intends to undertake, those that it might not have been able to reach a high-level deal before the economic collapse.
The major project includes land reform, easing labor restrictions, continuing the transition to fixing loan and deposit prices based on the market as well as the yuan, and promoting technology in a variety of areas to digitize the Chinese economy.
A growing concern with this ambitious recovery in production and sales is the increased chances of a second wave of infections in China, as crowds gather at work and on the go.
As for the country’s unprecedented collapse in economic growth, this is yesterday’s news.
Tanner Brown is a writer at MarketWatch and Barron and producer of the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief podcast.