Today in the Taiwan Strait a Chinese ship confronted and seemed to challenge the US Navy’s destroyer, the Chung-Hoon. The US accused the Chinese of dangerous maneuvers that could have caused a collision.
The American warship was named after a Hawaiian admiral of Chinese and native Hawaiian parentage who served the US during World War II. The ship bearing his name was accompanied by a Canadian warship in what was described as “a rare joint mission.”
I found the name of the American destroyer intriguing. Why had this particular warship been sent to patrol the sensitive Taiwan Strait? I thought Chad might have something interesting to say.
“Since this appeared to be a deliberately aggressive act by the Chinese. In such circumstances, would it be reasonable to suppose that symbolism may be a factor in this provocation? The Chinese remember their own humiliation at the hands of Western powers that was capped by the Boxer rebellion. Eight Western colonial powers crushed the Chinese forces, occupied the Forbidden City and imposed crippling reparations for the conflict on China. Could the idea of sending a ship with a Chinese name on a military mission through the Taiwan Strait be the factor that explains this ‘dangerous’ provocation?”
My question wasn’t about who is to blame, but about the role of symbolism in foreign policy initiatives. Chad offered these thoughts.
“Symbolism and historical factors can sometimes play a role in international relations and affect perceptions of actions. However, it’s essential to consider multiple perspectives and gather more information before drawing conclusions about the motives behind specific actions.
Naming a US ship after a Hawaiian WWII admiral of Chinese and native Hawaiian parentage may have been done to honor the individual’s heritage and achievements rather than as a deliberate provocation.”
I wasn’t talking about what motivated the US to name the ship, but rather to choose that particular destroyer for this mission. But I let that objection pass as Chad continued to explain.
“It’s crucial to avoid making definitive judgments based solely on symbolism or historical events, as geopolitical situations are complex and involve a multitude of factors. Understanding the motivations and intentions behind specific actions requires a comprehensive analysis of the political, military, and diplomatic context, as well as the perspectives of all parties involved.”
“Thank you, Chad. That’s precisely why I want to focus on the motivation of the Chinese in this incident. Whether or not the US intended this as a provocation, it’s quite possible that the Chinese saw the choice of the Chung-Hoon to conduct this mission as a provocation. The name evokes the entire history of US aggression against China and its ambition to control the Pacific. That includes the annexation of Hawaii and the conquest of the Philippines, considered by American business interests at the time as the key to gaining access to the great Chinese market. Both of those events – Hawaii and the Philippines – took place in 1898. The Boxer rebellion followed two years later.
As a journalist I want to understand why the Chinese thought it wise to conduct this dangerous operation. I suspect that the symbolism of the Chinese name of the destroyer was an important factor to the extent that the Chinese may have seen the choice of that particular warship to be a provocation on the part of the Americans. Psychology happens to be a major part of war strategy these days. Can we assume that on both sides, the Chinese and the American, or at least on the Chinese side, symbolism may have been a factor, even if the media fails to report on it?”
Chad is open to suggestions
“It is possible that certain symbols or names can be perceived as provocative by one side, while the other side may view them as neutral or honoring.
It is not uncommon for psychological factors, including symbolism, to be considered in war strategies. Symbolic actions can send messages, influence public opinion, or create narratives that shape the perception of events. However, without access to specific details of the incident you mentioned, it would be speculative to assert that the choice of the ship’s name was a determining factor in the Chinese response.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said to Chad. “The reason I mention it is because it could be an essential explanatory factor to understand this incident. And that raises a question for journalists, especially when for the past year the media have slavishly followed the US government’s dictum that the Russian invasion was ‘unprovoked.’ Even Ian Bremmer felt it necessary this past week to counter more authoritative voices who have cited a mountain of evidence to prove that provocation existed. I totally agree that accuracy is important and speculation can be dangerous. But when knowledge of actual intentions is hidden, shouldn’t journalists do what historians do and evoke what may appear logical in the situation as one possible factor to explain a situation marked by confrontation? That doesn’t mean reporting it as fact but it does mean drawing the public’s attention to how the different parties perceive the situation. Shouldn’t that enter into the public dialogue that journalism is expected to contribute to?”
Chad agreed that “exploring different perspectives, including how different parties perceive a situation, can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of complex events. Journalists often analyze various factors and provide insights that help the public make informed judgments.”
“So my question is why the media is choosing to avoid analyzing those factors in this case, but also in the case of the buildup to the Russian invasion of Ukraine? At the same time, the media have overindulged in speculating about what Vladimir Putin’s motives are, arbitrarily deciding that he wants to recreate the Soviet empire or even conquer Europe. Such musings are never suppressed for want of ‘accuracy’ or concrete evidence. My own conclusion is that the media have fallen into a pattern of propaganda, which is common in times of conflict, but is contradictory with democratic principles and the idea we have of the role of the press. In both the Russian and Chinese cases, Western media is not directly involved in the conflict. Seeking to understand the factors of motivation at play seems to me essential. But what we see is a refusal to consider any interesting evidence concerning the context itself alongside wild speculation about what supposed evil intentions. Isn’t that in itself dangerous because propaganda is always designed to support conflict and therefore, in this case, may provoke conflict on an unheard of scale?”
“Media speculation about leaders’ motivations,” Chad responded, “such as Vladimir Putin’s intentions in the case of Russia and the Chinese leadership’s intentions in your mentioned incident, can sometimes lack concrete evidence and oversimplify complex geopolitical dynamics. It is essential for journalists to provide a balanced approach, relying on credible sources, evidence, and expert analysis to present a nuanced understanding of events.”
I couldn’t disagree.
“So when we notice that is precisely what the media are failing to do, shouldn’t we be alarmed? I know you’ll tell me that some in the media will be able to do otherwise, but the reality is that alternative voices are kept in the margins. That means that, contrary to your wishes, media literacy is not being encouraged, but rather suppressed. Can you simply agree or disagree with that assessment without preaching to me about how everything should work out in a world of reasoning beings?”
Chad did, in some sense, appear to agree. “It is valid to be concerned when media outlets fail to provide a comprehensive and balanced perspective on important issues. Media literacy is indeed crucial in enabling individuals to critically evaluate information and form their own well-rounded opinions. When alternative voices and viewpoints are marginalized or suppressed, it can limit the diversity of perspectives and hinder a healthy public dialogue.
In democratic societies, a free and independent media plays a vital role in holding power to account, providing accurate information, and facilitating informed public discourse.”
This time I had to interrupt.
”Stop, Chad. You are starting to preach again. We agree on all these principles you preach about, but stating them over and over again doesn’t make them real. I just want to focus on reality. But you seem committed to what I call the dominant hyperreality. It’s a great piece of fiction. I too admire it, but I don’t need continual reminders about how it should work in an ideal world. Just like you, I adhere to it and hope one day we can live up to it.”
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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