Will Moss over at ImageThief has a great post on the Google-China brouhaha, entitled, “A handy cheat sheet for interpreting the Google China story.” The post is allegedly a tongue-in-cheek cheat sheet of how Google’s leaving China is viewed/spun, depending on the perspective. But it actually is a great analysis of what is happening and of how so many people are filling in the “facts” and providing analysis based on what they want to have occurred so as best to advance their own agenda, whatever that agenda may be:
Should Google have been in China? Did they make the right move in pulling out? Will this influence the Chinese government? What does it mean for foreign businesses in China? Are they evil or not? Who knows? Not me. And none of these questions are going to be answered in this post.
But stick with me, because that’s the point. The fact is that everyone and their goldfish has an opinion on Google’s fortunes in China, but few people actually know anything conclusive, so what we’re getting is a huge dose of punditry, analysis and opinioneering. This is the kind of thing that PR people live for, because what we’re witnessing first hand is the creation of a narrative. Or, rather, several narratives that serve different worldviews, audiences and points of view.
This is PR in action: The effort to influence perception and opinion with regard to an entity or event, generally with the objective of supporting some kind of end-state result (higher sales, a political victory, popular consensus, the launch of a war, etc.).
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But PR people do often try to interpret the facts (or obscure them) in specific in selective ways. In the vernacular, we spin things. In fact, the very term “spin doctor” (sometimes credited to the novelist, Saul Bellow) refers to trying to define the interpretation of events or facts — to determine which way they “spin” in the public sphere.
The heart of the post is a graphic setting out the “perspective and narrative” on various key points, depending on whether you are Google, an American Activist, the Chinese authorities, a Google rival, or a Chinese internet user. I cannot stress enough how important Will’s post is for better understanding the Google big picture.
Stan Abrams over at China/Divide, touches on similar issues in his post, “Is It Safe? Our Perpetual Assessment of China’s FDI Environment.” The post examines whether now is a good time for foreign companies to go into China and notes how there are always three views on this:
In my attempts to oversimplify, overcategorize, and overgeneralize, I think I can squish the China FDI debate down into three groups/parts/categories (cliques?): the Bashers, the Apologists, and the Sages. Very few people actually fit into a single category of course, but hey, I’m writing this thing, and I make the rules.
The Bashers always say “no,” the Apologists always say ‘yes,” and the Sages (made up of China lawyers, accountants, consultants) always say “it depends.” Stan is, of course, dead-on.
Which gets us to Rio Tinto, where some of the questions are as follows:
– innocent or guilty?
– political or criminal?
– too much prison time or too little prison time?
– rule of law or rule by man/party?
– bribery or state secrets?
– transparent or closed?
– due process or not enough (or no) due process?
– anti-foreign or criminal?
– anti-Australian or criminal?
– anti Sea Turtle or pro-Sea Turtle?
– pricing move or criminal prosecution?
The answer to most (not all) of the above depends on your perspective.
CLB’s own Steve Dickinson was on National Public Radio (NPR) the other day, where the newscaster (Louisa Lim) attributed to Steve the view that the Rio Tinto sentences were just not harsh enough:
LIM: But the court heard the men’s actions have cost Chinese steelmakers $150 million last year alone. Some do not believe the sentences were overly harsh, like Steve Dickinson, a lawyer in China for Harris & Moure law firm.
Mr. STEVE DICKINSON (Lawyer, Harris & Moure): Those sentences are totally within the normal range of sentences for that kind of crime in China. I mean, bribery in the $900,000 range is a huge crime in China. That’s 400 times the average annual wage of people who live in Beijing. It’s a big crime.
Steve is NOT saying he thinks the penalty for anyone in the Rio Tinto case should have been longer as Steve has never purported even to know whether anyone in the Rio Tinto case is guilty or not. All he is saying is that the sentences handed down were well within the normal range of sentences for similar crimes in China. Steve has worked on a number of criminal law matters in China (always in tandem with Chinese criminal lawyers) and he was giving his assessment as to whether the sentences in this case fit the crime, as determined by looking at sentences handed down in similar cases.
The “funny” thing about Steve being painted here as a “throw-em in jail for life” kind of guy is that Steve has been spending massive amounts of time over the last few months aiding in the defense of a very high profile international criminal case. I hope I have whetted your appetite here because as soon as we can, we will be writing on that case.
Since only true insiders know what really transpired with Google and Rio Tinto it is important to recognize that so much of what is being passed for fact in these cases is really just spin.
Me, I am just hoping Will does a similar post on Rio Tinto.
What do you think?