Monday, October 19, 2015

American Biases

One of the core issues of working between China and the US is the cultural biases we both impose on our  personal interactions.  As with any bias, these biases are often born from experience, direct or tangential.  Sadly, when it comes to the American media, they are too often willing accomplices in reinforcing such biases, particularly when it comes to China.

In this case, when I refer to the American media, I am referring to the grand idea of great institutions of our day, that have developed a process and a skill to search for the idea of truth.  Objectivity is still the goal, if not always attained.  I know this is idealistic in this political climate, but I have seen first-hand an institution that represents this idea at its core.  Unfortunately, with this same institution, it seems the idea of objectivity is thrown out the window when it comes to China.

Take, for example, this article from today's Washington Post.  The idea that "China" is still conducting government-sanctioned cyber attacks is sexy, and it fits our perception of both an untrustworthy leadership (Xi), and an evil enemy (China).  There are two issues with such a report.  The first is that the decision to halt such attacks was made just a month ago.  To expect the government apparatus of 1.2 billion people to halt activities in such a short time is naive to the challenge of managing any large organization, let alone one such as China's.

The second issue is that the article does not attempt to define "government".  I wonder if Ms. Nakashima even asked her US sources to define the organizations they label as government sources of the attacks?  If she did, she does not report on their answer.  China is a nation of 34 provincial governments, hundreds of state-owned enterprises, among many other government operations.

The idea that the central authority dictates the micro actions of every government-tied organization throughout the land is wrong.  Americans (and the American media it seems) would be surprised to learn that the provincial authorities wield tremendous power, in some instances significantly more than even our state governments.

To assume that a cyber attack happening now is at the behest of the central authority is naive, and to not dissect these questions further as a a journalist is at best lazy, and at worst negligent.