Published On: March 5, 2020 08:36 AM NPT By: Hari Prakash Chand
Mao is a national icon of China and Chinese people. They would surely be hurt when they see media disrespecting their national icon
China is fighting against novel coronavirus to mitigate the loss and to save the lives of its citizens. The Chinese government has made all the efforts to prevent the spread of the virus beyond highly impacted areas in China. To fight against this epidemic, China opened 1,000-bed coronavirus hospital just within a week of construction, which is amazing. China is trying to apply all the measures to control the situation. Many countries in the world are expressing solidarity with China in its fight against the virus.
However, some Western media seem to have used this situation in China, a friendly neighbor of Nepal, an occasion to attack its political system. Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former US ambassador to NATO, wrote an article entitled “China’s secrecy has made coronavirus crisis much worse” in Chicago Tribune. Then it was reprinted in The Korean Herald. In Nepal, The Kathmandu Post republished this article on February 18. The article immediately went viral because of the cartoon printed rather than the content. The cartoon was related to the image of Mao Zedong, the great Chinese leader, wearing a mask on 100 Yuan banknote. When the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu issued a statement expressing serious objection to the article, both the statement as well as the article attracted attention across the country. It has been claimed that the article was printed through the Asian News Network but neither Chicago Tribune nor The Korean Herald had published that demeaning picture along with the article.
In Kathmandu, the embassy’s press statement brought a quick response from editors of different media outlets. They criticized the embassy for naming the editor, and issuing threats against the media. They laid importance on freedom of expression but have grossly ignored the sensibilities of China at this time of suffering and pain.
Most common people in Nepal have taken this issue differently. They are asking why a newspaper had to present a leader, most respected in China, in such a bad light. This is entirely an attack on the Chinese political system and its sovereignty, they say. Some intellectuals are questioning if it would be acceptable for Nepalis if some Chinese media outlets published a cartoon of King Prithvi Narayan Shah wearing a mask. Chinese professors have shared similar concern with me. Professor Zhang Shubin, Director of Nepal Study Center of Hebei University of Economics and Business told me that using that insulting photo was a blunder and a misuse of press freedom.
“Will be unacceptable for Nepal if a newspaper publishes a photo of masked King Prithvi to describe the polluted dusty air in Kathmandu?” He asked. “Can the same paper use the photo of Mahatma Gandhi with a facemask to criticize the air pollution in New Delhi?” If it does, it could be called non-biased. If not, that means being selfish, insulting Chinese people and harming the China-Nepal relations,” he said.
Chinese intellectuals and people have taken this incident seriously because they are very sensitive about nationalism and sovereignty.
In every country, people respect their national leaders and luminaries. In Nepal, we respect figures like Lord Buddha, King Prithvi Narayan Shah and Bhanu Bhakta Acharya and we become reactive when others disrespect them because they are our national icons. Mao is a national icon of China and Chinese people would surely be hurt when they see media disrespecting their national icon. Thus I would call that incident a mistake on the part of the respective newspaper. Such activity does not help to strengthen bilateral relations either.
China has been Nepal’s friend in need. Let’s not forget the support China provided to Nepal during the critical times of blockade and earthquakes of 2015. China has provided financial assistance for Nepal’s development as well. Most of all, China has never interfered in Nepal’s internal affairs. Because they do not insult the leaders and political system of other countries, they expect other countries not to insult their leaders and political system. Thus the newspaper should not have printed the picture that insulted China and Chinese people in the name of freedom of speech and at the cost of harming Nepal- China relations.
Nepal lies in sensitive geostrategic location. Thus it should handle its affairs with its neighboring countries, including China, sensitively. We gain nothing by unnecessarily criticizing China. Besides, we cannot maximize and diversify our foreign relations without cordial relations with our neighbors and other countries. The government, citizens and media should contribute in maintaining cordial relations with other states. At this time of suffering, we need to support China’s efforts of containing the virus outbreak. We should not hurt their sensibilities.
The author is a PhD scholar of International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University
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