The old saying stating that each new generation had to learn history in order not to commit the same mistakes has become quite topical. Current events are broadcasted to people who read fewer books than ever and increasingly rely on fast-changing virtual content containing unconcealed US propaganda.
Many around the world who grew up on textbooks and movies, convinced that the most decisive battles against Nazism and fascism took place in Western Europe and Northern Africa, were surprised on September 3 in Beijing, and previously, on May 9 in Moscow, as both capitals celebrated the World War II victory. Citizens from around the world learned about enormous Chinese contribution to Japan’s defeat and Russia’s key role in Stalingrad, Moscow and Leningrad epic battles signalling the beginning of the end of Hitler. Both cases summarize crucial contributions to the defeat of Nazism that would otherwise leave no hope for the mankind.
It would be easy to assume that the one-sided historic narrative produced and spread by US media, including Hollywood, is slightly crumbling to give way to a more international plural view. But the process is slow and painful, in spite of media coverage carried out by powerful channels such as Sputnik and RT in Russia, CCTV, Caixin and Southern China Weekly magazines in China, plus The BRICS Post (among others), broadcasting and publishing in Russian, Chinese, English, Spanish, Portuguese and many more languages from each continent.
The truth is that traditional US interpretations of war and peace will presumably continue propagating, almost as strong as ever. It is not a specific view or event that matters, but news coverage, interpretation, reinterpretation and dissemination. After all US «grand strategy is not simply about the future, however; it is also about the past».
We could try to summarize the current challenges as follows.
First, there is a stream of opinions trying to equate Russia with the Soviet Union and modern China with Mao’s era, as if the time had not passed.
Second, consequently, time is ripe for confrontational stories and plots. Novels and films from the Cold War times are back in the US. In them, Russians and Chinese interchangeably appear portrayed as perverse and cunning antiheroes ready to conquer the world, playing short-term positive roles, but all in all untrustworthy.
Third, China and Russia-like threats constantly confront the ordinary citizen, no matter his country, since on almost permanent basis it is stated that the world Internet status quo is in peril from threats originated in Moscow, Beijing, Teheran and Pyongyang. Such accusations appear in press conferences set up by Obama administration officials and became the main topic of several international symposia. Much less attention is given to the local and domestic threats. The controversial but nonetheless quite successful communicator for his own cause – Donald Trump – has expressed that the worse threat for peace are China and Russia.
Thus, fourth, the current US presidential campaign shows that the above-mentioned motives are popular among American constituencies and because of that, the presidential race will presumably bring a confrontational candidate to the office. In such a scenario, four years of confrontation with significant parts of the re-emerging world lie ahead.
Intriguingly, Chinese and Russian school students have a good idea of Western history, but conversely, in the US, except at Universities, minimal attention is given to China and Russia and practically no information is provided about Eurasia as a new re-emerging reality following the end of the Cold War. Currently there are 400 million people learning English in China compared to 200,000 Americans learning Chinese.
Moscow and Beijing are bound to inevitably reinforce what influential Chinese communicator, Huang Youyi, calls the need to «master the rules of international dialogue… to successfully communicate… ideas to people from different cultures».
The West often sees China as a source of economic and geopolitical risks. Huang thinks telling other citizens stories of Chinese people is the best way to communicate, as «they are easier for foreign readers to accept than abstract concepts». After all, citizens in different countries want similar things for themselves and their children.
Regarding Russia one could argue that the country is largely seen as an archenemy, a wild scarcely populated country, a complete opposite of the modern globalized world, as if Russia would not exchange and send abroad scores of entrepreneurs, scientists or tourists. Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council – who rightfully insists on highlighting that Russians have no ideological differences from the rest of the world – points out, that reading Western scholars or journalists on Russia, one often finds confrontational headlines such as: «a geopolitical confrontation between Moscow and Washington is inevitable», «the Atlantic and Eurasian civilizations are geopolitically incompatible», «geopolitics is replacing geo-economics», «BRICS is the geopolitical union of the future».
During Washington track II meeting in 2008, I witnessed how US thought leaders and leaders of opinion rejected Chinese delegates’ ideas about developing Beijing’s own media network globally due to «the essence» of China’s political system. Clearly today Moscow and Beijing must have a way of explaining themselves to the world in the best way possible.
First, Washington establishment’s desire to portray China and Russia according to its own political needs is neither negotiable nor possible, not only for the national sovereignty concerns but also for the benefit of the democratic international community.
Second, beyond those arguments, while it is true that both countries ought to defend and promote their images according to their own specific cultures and most immediate geopolitical concerns, there is room for joint coordinated action.
Third, both, assertiveness and resilience are necessary. Today, decades after the Cold War, if Beijing finds itself in a confrontational situation it hardly uses aggressive language, making rather oblique and even allegoric statements instead. Unlike Russian language that includes firm «yes» and «no», Chinese language (translated or not) on the international arena for cultural reasons is not used to stress disagreements in words.
Fourth, certain news should not be neglected in a reinforced joint coverage. The very facts that five Chinese warships sailed near the Bering Strait coinciding with early September’s Beijing’s parade in Tiananmen Square, plus Russia’s freshest initiative to act in Syria, should contribute to the international prestige of the both countries. At first glance, to the Western public that is used to accept the exceptionalism of US warships in Asia as a normal way to «promote stability», the Chinese move may appear as a provocation and expansionism. But an intelligent audience would understand the move better. Meanwhile, Moscow’s decision to help solve the Syria crisis might appear as interventionism, but many would agree that US and Western long-term reaction to 9/11 with its tremendous mistakes and broad international consequences in the Near and Middle East needs a fresher perspective and, if possible, an alternative narrative.