MISQUOTED PRAISES

A Chinese paper used fake news to play up Xi Jinping’s influence at Davos

Obsession
Propaganda
Obsession
Propaganda

China’s propaganda machines are rolling in full force to pitch Xi Jinping’s alternative vision for globalization while Davos is underway. State news outlets in recent days put out a slew of articles promoting the idea that the 2018 World Economic Forum has been shaped by the Chinese president, even though he’s not there.

One of the pieces, published Jan. 24 by China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper, is titled “Xi set agenda in ’17 for this year’s forum, Davos mayor says.” Staff reporter Fu Jing quoted Davos mayor Tarzisius Caviezel (shown above) in the piece as saying:

The agenda-setters of the World Economic Forum are responsible for deciding the theme. Of course, they took important points out of President Xi’s speech and developed them into the theme of this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum.

What is important is that they did not just take one point out. The whole program was developed based on President Xi’s important thoughts in his speech.

These quotes echo the claim in other Chinese media reports that this year’s Davos theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” is developed from Xi’s Davos speech last year. In January 2017, Xi became the first Chinese president to attend Davos, and positioned himself as globalization’s most vocal champion. “As long as we keep to the goal of building a community of shared future for mankind and work hand in hand to fulfill our responsibilities and overcome difficulties, we will be able to create a better world and deliver better lives for our peoples,” Xi said in his big speech.

Caviezel’s remarks seemed too good to be true—and, in fact, they weren’t. The quotes in the China Daily story were changed and fabricated, turning the true remarks into propaganda.

Quartz reached out Jan. 25 to the Davos mayor office to verify the quotes. In an email reply, Corina Issler Baetschi, a mayoral aide, provided us with the correct quotes, emphasizing in red the changed parts, which appear below in bold. The strikeout refers to a remark attributed to the mayor, but which he never said:

The agenda-setters of the World Economic Forum decide on their own about the annual topic of the World Economic Forum. It may be possible that they took important points out of President Xi’s speech and developed them into the theme of this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum.

What is important is that they did not just take one point out. The whole program was developed based on President Xi’s important thoughts in his speech.

According to Issler, the remark above was made by the China Daily journalist in response to the mayor’s comment above.

In another paragraph, the China Daily article quoted Caviezel as saying Xi’s visit was “a great time and the most important one” in the last few years of the World Economic Forum. Issler, however, says the full and correct quote should be: “For me personally, president’s Xi visit was very exciting and the most important one of the last few years” of the World Economic Forum. Issler says she will also contact China Daily to clarify the matter.

Fu Jing, the article’s author, said in a Jan. 27 email to Quartz that our story was “wrongly approached” for not interviewing him beforehand. He also said he couldn’t comment further at this stage. Quartz had reached out via email to both Fu and China Daily before publication.

Later, in a Facebook post Jan. 28, Fu denied changing quotes and said he based his quotes off a mayoral aide’s English translation of the interview remarks made in German.

It is not uncommon for Chinese state media to go to extreme lengths to push Beijing’s agenda. Foreign experts have in the past reported instances in which Chinese media fabricated or drastically changed their remarks. In 2015, China Daily published an op-ed from New Yorker writer Peter Hessler praising the stability of China’s political system. Hessler says he has never written such an opinion piece, but only accepted an interview from the Chinese paper which had been thoroughly repackaged.

Update: This article was updated on Jan. 29 with a comment from the China Daily article’s author, and the caption was amended in response to a clarification from the mayor’s office. On Jan. 31, additional comment from a statement the China Daily author posted on Facebook was added.

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