Does America’s political position in the world alter US media? Do current events have to serve a particular political agenda in order to be reported in the U.S? The coverage or lack there of, regarding the protests occurring in Hong Kong and Jakarta would seem to support that notion.
Why is it that the U.S media has so vigilantly reported the protests in Hong Kong, China while those in Jakarta, Indonesia are hardly on the radar at all? A quick poll of my political science class told me that while everyone, students and professor, were aware of the protests in Hong Kong, none were aware of those going on in Jakarta. Particularly telling is that the protests share a multitude of similarities and yet the U.S media has only mass reported one of them.
These protests have followed a similar path, both being fueled by students, initially opposing a specific piece of proposed legislation and ultimately expanding further into their retrospective communities. In Hong Kong a group called Demosito has been at the forefront of the protests, three of the group’s leaders are under 26 and they have expressed the youth’s growing disdain for mainland policies and called for democratic reforms in Hong Kong. Similarly, in Jakarta one of the major spokeswomen for the protests is a 23 year old student named Nailendra.
The similarities do not end there but can be again found in the original aspirations for these protests. A policy was proposed in Hong Kong that would allow the extradition of people suspected of crimes to mainland China for trial. If this policy were to be enacted it would severely limit any freedom of speech maintained within Hong Kong. The threat of extradition would linger over any potential protests or questioning of mainland China. This proposal in June set off the protests in Hong Kong, that have been going on since. The protests in Jakarta were also inspired by the potential passage of new legislation. A new proposed policy in Indonesia would not only ban extramarital affairs but would also shackle anti-corruption efforts, criminalize being LGBTQ+ and slash already wavering personal freedoms. The protests began in mid-September shortly after the proposed policy.
Both protests have erupted into violence and have been met with an increasingly harsh militaristic crackdown on behalf of their governments. In Jakarta two protesters have already died, one having been shot while the other passed away from injuries sustained during the protests. Along with these two tragedies, hundreds of people have been injured and/or imprisoned. Protesters in Hong Kong have been met with a similar fate. While there have been no reported deaths, 2 protesters were shot and many others were left injured or imprisoned by the protests.
The means through which these governments have cracked down on the protesters have also followed a similar trek. Water cannons and tear gas have been the major weapons used against protesters, with some instances of real bullets being fired. Both governments insist that they are trying to maintain order, but violence is escalating in both countries and each protest has the potential to turn bloody very quickly.
So, with all their similarities, why has the US media neglected to adequately report the protests in Jakarta, yet reserve the front page for those occurring in Hong Kong?
Perhaps the increasing rhetoric that highlights China as a threat to the U.S has hijacked our interests. A Pew Research Center survey, reported that three out of five Americans see China as an increasing threat to U.S interests. Our perception of Chinese- U.S relations has shifted astronomically within the last few years. China is maintaining an increased presence on the world stage and has begun to engage in activities that we had reserved for ourselves as hegemon. The Chinese Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, was created to offer a global alternative to the U.S created World Bank. As the U.S saw nations slowly acknowledge the legitimacy of the AIIB, the fear of a rising China was flooded into the mainstream American society.
The proof of an increasingly powerful China can also be found in the 2019 Freedom House Report. They state that the liberal international order may be under threat because of China’s increasing presence on the global stage. The report claims that China’s authoritarian system now serves as an increasingly enticing alternative model for developing nations, who would have otherwise strived for a liberal democracy.
This underlying fear of China in American society is undoubtedly the main reason we publicize Chinese currents events more-so than other nations experiencing similar cases. It is important to acknowledge that this fear is even present in non-political America. While the average American may not be familiar with political theory or the potential for a Thucydides trap scenario, they can understand how China’s rise could undermine U.S status in the world and it frightens them. The American people cannot escape the discussion of a rising China, President Trumps obsession with China is dissected and evaluated constantly by the media. Netflix’s Insatiable is hardly a political TV series and yet even within its narrative the notion of tariffs and ‘fake news’ regarding US- Chinese relations is discussed.
The political position of our country guides which stories we hear about and which we don’t depending on their relevance to our own situation. By highlighting the protests in China we can ensure that the rhetoric bestowing China with an authoritarian title is ever present. These protests are just one example of the specifically calculated choices U.S media makes on which nations to cover and which to not.
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