Global Times, 10 December 2021, with this title “French media pushes anti-China narrative in a monolithic block, but at least one man is fighting for objective views” — “Bursting alliance” ….with highlighting imposed by The Editor, Thuppahi
Maxime Vivas (Vivas), French writer and journalist, has been insulted and attacked for his objective views on China. Vivas started in early November on the world’s largest petition platform, change.org, a petition to call on all sectors of society to have an objective view of China. But then the link for the petition quickly became unavailable, as the US-based website deleted the petition. “Respect China like we respect ourselves!” Vivas openly criticized the Western media outlets and social media that demonize China, but was frequently attacked by the French media. The Global Times reporters Chen Qingqing and Liu Xin recently had an online forum with Vivas and Zheng Ruolin (Zheng), a senior Chinese media professional and European studies expert who has lived in France for several years, to look into where the Western media bias came from on China-related coverage and how to deal with their smearing of China.
Zheng: Hello, Mr Vivas. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you, especially regarding an appeal that you have launched for the right to speak differently about China. It is also an honor for me to participate. But the petition had been deleted by the US website change.org very soon. I saw the petition had already got 1,612 signatures. In the current context of Sinophobia around the world, it is very encouraging to see the petition. Could you tell us more about the petition? About why you started it, how it was deleted and how you managed to repost it on another website?
Vivas: The petition was initiated by Jean-Pierre Page, who was the co-editor of the book called China Without Blinders. The book was written by 17 people from five continents.
We initiated the petition since we realized that with this book and the book that I had written before on the Uygurs, I was being criticized, slandered, and defamed by the media and sometimes political figures. I thought it was necessary to obtain the right to speak about China differently.
China has endured unrelenting defamation and it prompted us to launch the petition. Initially, we wanted to have 100 signatories from around the world to launch the petition. Later we got 150. The petition was released on change.org with extraordinary silence and then it was censored immediately.
What is remarkable is that it is not the change.org office in France or its Paris office that censored it, but the US office. The website sent me an email that the petition did not meet their criteria. So, it is the US that decided which petitions could circulate in France. It’s already a little bit unbelievable. It’s incredible.
For now, we are not talking about it. But they will have to talk about it at one time or another. Currently, the media is silent on both censorship and the fact that 150 intellectuals from around the world are advocating that we should talk about China differently.
You know, there is a principle in law which says that you cannot try someone without giving the floor to the defense or counter-witnesses. Despite the media’s silence, we got many signatures. We also got support from a great French poet, who is well-known in China since he lectured and toured there.
His name is Serge Pey. He was awarded the Apollinaire Prize. He wrote me a poem. I am going to read a part of it to you and you will see the support of this great French poet.
Because their job is to spit, they spit on my friend, they spit on him because their job is to spit.
Watch how he spits, because their job is to spit.
He spits on the truth, he spits on it because their job is to lie.
Hear how they lie, because their job is to spit.
He spits in the springs, they spit on it, because their job is to dirty.
See how dirty they are, for their job is to spit.
He spits on the hand of peace and spits on it, for their job is to kill.
Zheng: What you are doing is to unveil lies, including their lies on the so-called genocide of the Uygurs in China’s Xinjiang region. What you have written has given a very strong blow against the current Western public opinion on picturing China as evil. You also encourage more people in France and other places around the world to know the truth about China. This is why the media is trying to spit on you.
Vivas: I believe so. This is actually what is terrible – they lie, they spit on you but they don’t allow you to respond.
In fact, we never have the right to defend ourselves. I made several requests to several media, in the hope to answer their questions and to bring different arguments or information. But they never accepted because the media have their discourse and they do not accept a different one.
It’s bad. Because we have been muzzled by the media and even by some “friendly media.” There is a YouTube news channel, which was created to contradict all the media but made a completely false report. We asked the channel to respond to its accusations, but they never responded.
There is also a columnist who attacked me on the France Inter, the French state public radio station. When I asked them to let me respond to the accusations, they refused.
On Twitter, they attacked me for being red-brown – the mixture of ultra-left and ultra-right, the Nazi. One can say that I am a Nazi and I do not have a right to reply.
There is a satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo which published an article about my Uygur book, they called me goofy. The columinist hasn’t read the book. A lot of these critiques haven’t read the book.
I had an interview with another popular show in France called Quotidienne for a few minutes. The next day, they asked my editor for my book. They hadn’t read it too!
This is how I am treated by the media. I want to have a civil dialogue with them over the issues in China. I have never claimed that China is a paradise with only good things. But if we are going to disagree it should be done properly, not the way its done in the media.
Zheng: I know this because I have lived in France. It’s common that talking about China positively or even objectively is not politically correct. I have friends who told me in privately that “I know you are right but I cannot admit it publicly.” I think you have the same feelings.
Vivas: I had a phone conversation with a journalist named Laurence from the newspaper Liberation, which was established by Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was a great philosopher and a friend of China. The interview went on longer than expected.
During the interview the journalist had praised me and even dished out advise that I shouldn’t fear public evil. But 10 days later, the newspaper released a story disparaging me. The same person who was kind in private attacked me in public.
Another interview I had with a website was distorted when they published it. I told them I had a recording and they immediately corrected the lies.
It’s tough dealing with the media. You must always be on your guard. When they ask you questions, they have preconceived notions that you are a sell out to China. It’s a narrative that newspapers around the world are pushing. Their narrative is that China is buying up Western intellectuals to help it polish up its image. But China didn’t buy me. I went to China myself first as a tourist in 2008 and later on three journalistic trips. I fell in love with the country.
Zheng: Like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who met with someone in China in the 1950s. What would Jean-Paul Sartre have thought of the current situation?
My next question is about demonization of China. Of course, there is a long history of this – from the “yellow peril” to the “red China” and to the current “China threat” and the latest allegations of “genocide.” Why do they demonize China? What are the reasons?
Vivas: I know the answer, but I believe you do too.
In fact, today there is a competition between China and the US for world leadership. It turns out that the US, which was the greatest power in the world since the end of the World War II, is watching China slowly overtaking its place.
The US would not allow a competitor as powerful as itself from an economic point of view to thrive. And from a military point of view, they’re hopeless because they can’t defeat China by bombing it. That’d be too dangerous.
Americans have always been at war for as long as America has existed. They want to confront China militarily but won’t do it because the price to pay will be too much. The US has never had war at home watching its people die and its cities destroyed. But we the French and Chinese had wars at home.
They don’t know how to do it. I know there are think tanks working at the Pentagon on “whether we should attack China immediately before it is too strong or not?” The current plan is to push for a cold war, which could turn into a hot war.
Previously, they attacked China about the Tibet region, then they lost.
After that, there is Taiwan. And then there is Xinjiang. All these have been done to prepare the international community for an attack by the US to “defend the freedom and rights of people.” We know that the US has powerful propaganda tools and influencial media in many countries in the world.
Zheng: But the Americans must know that there is a Maxime Vivas.
Vivas: When I wrote the book Ouïghours, pour en finir avec les fake news(Uygurs, to put an end to the fake news), I did feel alone.
But now I am not alone. I have a friend Jean-Pierre Page, who made the book La Chine sans œillères which was published by Aymeric Monville. They are all brave.
There are 17 intellectuals around the world who wrote this book, who also took risks.
Zheng: Who attacked you?
Vivas: It is the journalists of the mainstream media, it is the printed press, radio and television, they united and stood together.
They think my book is not worth reading, they only read the title.
There is a French military institute, which released a 654-page report on China’s influence. They spent two years and had a dozen of researchers. The report claimed that China spread fake news, hire overseas students and overseas Chinese to make propaganda and it also attacked me for being a “useful fool.” The report cited me 52 times and included my photos in the publication. There was a real police investigation on my life including my children but they found nothing.
Ten years ago, a journalist from Charlie Hebdo investestigated me too. He found all the articles and books that I have written from the internet but found nothing that can be used against me. He told me that they found nothing to use to attack me. They wanted to send a warning to me but found nothing. Since they have nothing, they resort to lying.
Most TV programs invite three to four guests to talk about China but all are anti-China ones, which is horrible and goes against the law and ethics. And it is also contrary to the journalist’s charter and the obligation of journalists to tell the truth. But they do what they want.
There is a program watched by many young people in France called Don’t touch my post hosted by Cyril Hanouna. One day, I happened to see him talking about China with some columinists who said that “5 million Uygurs are in China’s concentration camps.”
No one stood out to say it is not true. And all the French journalists who heard the program didn’t try to refute the false narrative. They stood together.
Zheng: It is a pity to see this. During the period of the General de Gaulle, France held the spirit of independence and formed diplomatic relations with China despite US opposition. But today, the spirit of General de Gaulle, it seems to me, has completely disappeared in France. How can you explain that?
Vivas: I think the explanation is that France is moving more and more toward a type of economy that resembles the American economy and the society that emphasizes individualism.
I reread the speech of General de Gaulle for the recognition of China not too long ago. It was not a complacent speech to China. There was a lot of criticism of China’s political system. But things have changed a lot. I am a little desperate to see how unanimous the media are in France. All the information that comes to us about China is negative, to make people in France feel that nothing good is happening in China. That there is only catastrophe.
We must fight against this anti-China trend. I hope that in 2022 a politician who is a great friend of China, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will be elected. Then there will be a change in French politics and the discussion on China will feature balanced views.
Zheng: With your great efforts, have the French people’s opinions on China started to change? Or not at all?
Vivas: The French people’s views on Xinjiang have changed a lot. On my site Le Grand Soir, we published a large number of articles on China and we talked a lot about books on the subject.
We have changed the mindset of our readers on China. But the mainstream media is still a monolithic block.
I think in the future it will be cracked.
Zheng: China is facing a very serious demonization problem. With China’s rising, what should we do to let them understand China better?
Vivas: I believe there are a lot of things you can do. One thing China is now doing is to respond to the attacks. Previously, China was busy developing its economy. There wasn’t room for her to respond to the attacks from other countries. Now she does.
I see the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, is now responding to media attacks in France. His responses displease the media and the political elites a lot. But he is still doing it.
The Chinese government is also responding to the attacks with counter arguments. For example, talking about the genocide in the US and noting that millions of Indians were killed by colonialists.
We must also encourage intellectuals around the world who are friends of China to contribute to the debate. I am thinking once again of this book which was published by 17 intellectuals, which offers an authentic and new way to look at China.
It should be translated into English, Chinese and then other languages. When I wrote my book on the Dalai Lama, my friend denied to publish it in France. He said it would ruin his business.
I sent my book on the Uygurs to nine friendly publishers, some of whom had already published my books, eight of them did not respond.
The only one who responded accused me of trying to “whitewash China’s cruel deeds.”
Fortunately, my book was finally published by La route de la Soil.