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Talking Points, September 12-22, 2010

This issue of the USC US-China Institute newsletter focuses on how 9/11 changed the US-China relationship and affected the views Chinese college students have of the US. As always, the newsletter also brings information about China-related events across North America.
September 13, 2010

Talking Points
September 12 - 22, 2010

Nine years ago many Chinese college students cheered and expressed delight when they learned of the 9/11 attacks. One student told Beijing scholar Chen Shengluo, “I was really very excited. I thought the bombing was right because of what the United States had done to other counties.” Most of the 154 students Wang Zhaohui surveyed at his university also said they were happy about the attack.

Resentment towards the United States drove this. Many argued the U.S. was working to contain China, to block its advance. They felt the U.S. had trampled on Chinese rights and that American power kept their government from forcefully responding. Prominent among their grievances was the 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (during the war over Kosovo) and the April 2001 collision of an American spy plane and Chinese fighter jet off the South China coast.

Participants in the People’s Daily’sStrong Country” forum were much less joyful over the attack than students seem to have been. In the first 24 hours after the attack, participants posted more than 12,000 messages. Guo Liang found that just 14% of these expressed pleasure in America’s tragedy, though 36% blamed U.S. policies for inciting the attack. Forum monitors may have played some role in reducing truly free discussion.

Chinese state television and the Communist Party’s People’s Daily were restrained in their coverage. CCTV, for example, didn’t broadcast the collapse of the towers live. In contrast, Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based satellite channel offered around the clock and often sensationalistic coverage. Guangzhou’s Southern Weekend offered four heavily illustrated pages. Global Times, owned by the People’s Daily, but more market-oriented than its parent, featured the attack prominently its front page.

9/12/2001 frontpages: People's Daily (top) with Jiang call to Bush highlighted. Global Times (below)

The public response of China’s leaders to the attacks differed considerably from the celebrations in college dormitories. President Jiang Zemin quickly wrote to President Bush to say, "[t]he Chinese government condemns and opposes all violent terrorist activities." He subsequently called to further express his condolences and offer support.

To get the government line across in an increasingly competitive and complex media environment, state media ramped up coverage of the attack and its aftermath. The People’s Daily launched a special section on its website and articles on Chinese who died in the attack on those who survived were highlighted in various publications. This coverage pounded home another message as well. U.S. authorities failed to prevent the tragedy, commentators explained, in part because of America’s government failed to effectively cooperate with international organizations and other countries. Only sustained multilateral cooperation could defeat terrorists, they said. Beijing expected to be consulted as America moved forward and the U.S. ought to work with international agencies.

2001 Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) special 9-11 website section.

Chen Shengluo has noted that in addition to clarifying the message that terrorism was to be uniformly condemned and sympathy felt for those harmed, universities scheduled special showings of videos to document the families devastated by the attacks and also mobilized faculty to criticize students who applauded the attacks and to talk with students about the interests the two countries share. One of his interviewees subsequently said, “I really feel ashamed of my initial response. Because the United States had always opposed us, when it was bombed, I rejoiced and thought it was a good thing.… But my attitude changed.… The people in the World Trade Center were the same as us…, but one day a plane crashed into them, and then they disappeared.… It is very pitiful. I have a lot of sympathy for the people.”

U.S.-China counter-terrorism cooperation has been limited, but was appreciated by Washington. In January 2002, Bush said, “in this moment of opportunity, a common danger is erasing old rivalries.” As in the 1970s and 1980s, U.S.-China ties again had a critical common security element. The Soviet threat pushed the two together in that earlier era (and in fact, both helped Pakistan support Afghan resistance to the Soviets) and now a fear of terrorism brought the two nations closer together. The U.S. got Chinese acquiescence to U.S. led initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2002, the U.S. designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization, lending credibility to Chinese government claims that the group used terrorism as a means towards achieving its independence aims. The Chinese also agreed to permit the FBI to station agents in Beijing and Beijing signed on to the U.S.-sponsored Container Security Initiative.

According to U.S. military officials, the intelligence provided by China on Afghanistan was not particularly useful. Chinese nationals, though, were among those rounded up in Afghanistan. Twenty-two Uighurs were captured and sent to Guantañamo Bay. Chinese investigators participated in interrogating them. The U.S. ultimately determined the Uighurs posed no threat to America. Because of concerns that they would be subjected to torture or even execution if they were repatriated to China, the U.S. government refused to do so. So far, seventeen of the men have been granted asylum in Albania, Bermuda, Palau, and Switzerland. The Chinese government has protested this. Five remain in custody, two of who should be bound for Germany soon.

The Chinese government considers the Uighurs captured in Afghanistan to be "East Turkestan" terror suspects and wants them turned over.

Chinese companies have followed the U.S. Army into Afghanistan and Iraq. Apart from the Soviet and now American war effort, China’s made the largest foreign investment ever in Afghanistan. The Chinese hope their $3.5 billion copper mine will help supply industry at home. Together with BP, China National Petroleum Corp. owns 75% of what may prove to be the second richest oilfield anywhere. They will need to invest billions to replace the creaky machinery there now and to expand production.


In some respects the 9/11 attacks were a wakeup call for China’s state media. As noted by the Straits Times, by the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, CCTV and state print media was ready. CCTV offered two channels of coverage and top state-run newspapers sent dozens of reporters to the region.

For several years, People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency also created special English and Chinese websites dedicated to the anniversaries of the attacks. This year, only Xinhua created a site and only in English. Coverage ahead of 9/11 included a chronology that stopped with the invasion of Iraq and included a body count and a $1 trillion estimate of the cumulative cost of the two wars. People’s Daily and other publications carried news about security preparations for the anniversary here in Los Angeles and of the 3,000 flags put up at Pepperdine University to honor those killed in the attacks.

 Top: People's Daily special section 2002; Bottom: Xinhua News Agency special section 2010.

People’s Daily clearly had 9/11 in mind in reporting the completion of Beijing’s tallest building, the International Trade Center. The 74-story building opened in August and has been designed to “withstand [a] 9-11 style attack.” 


China’s government and media consistently complain about American unilateralism in going to war and in other matters. Media reports emphasize the human and material costs of the conflicts. Terrorist activity within China has been highlighted. In 2007, Simon Shen and Liu Peng carried out a survey among 500 students in Southern China universities. A 53% majority described the attack as a brutal act, but an even greater number (57%) felt that U.S. policies and actions were primarily to blame for 9/11. At roughly the same time, however, Chen Shengluo carried out another survey among 505 students in Beijing universities. Most of those students held positive views toward the U.S. political system, more positive, in fact, than their views of the Chinese political system. Findings such as these show that Chinese students as a group and as individuals simultaneously holding multiple views of the U.S., some of them admiring and others quite negative.


Two of the scholars cited above (Chen Shengluo and Guo Liang) have been visiting scholars at USC. In two weeks, we’ll host a presentation by one of our current visiting scholars. Professor Yang Zhongdong teaches at Xinjiang University in Urumqi. He’ll be discussing ethnic relations in Xinjiang. Horrific violence broke out there in July 2009 and the region has been a focus of state security efforts.

This Thursday at 4 pm, we present a talk by Rong Ying, vice president of the China Institute for International Studies, the foreign ministry’s think tank. He will be discussing China’s complex relationship with India. We hope you can join us.

As always, we appreciate hearing from you. Write to us at

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The USC US-China Institute

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USC | California | North America | Exhibitions


09/15/2010: Family Factors Affecting Perceived Income Adequacy Among Older Adults in Urban China

Li Chao (China University of Political Science and Law) will speak. 
12 - 2 pm
USC Social Work Center (SWC) 106

09/16/2010: Lecture - China-India relations

A look at the China-India relationship in the past six decades.
4-5:30 pm
USC University Club, Pub Room



09/23/2010: “Ethnic Conflicts” or “Social Riots”? How to Understand Ethnic Relations in Xinjiang

USC US-China Institute visiting scholar Yang Zhongdong talks about ethnic relations in Xinjiang.

4 - 6 pm
USC Davidson Conference Center, California Room

09/27/2010: Assignment: China -- new documentary from USCI

The USC US-China Institute's new documentary series looks at how correspondents for American news organizations have covered China.
4 - 6 pm
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (ASC) 207


09/15/2010: 1428 Tours the U.S.

1428 won last year’s Best Documentary Award at the Venice International Film Festival. Director Du Haibin will attend the screening.
2 pm
Cal Arts

09/15/2010: China, the Developing World, and the New Global Dynamic

Lowell Ditmer and George Yu will speak on how, over time, international politics towards developing countries is changing.
4 - 5:30 pm
IEAS Conference Room, 6th floor

09/19/2010: Navigating the Opportunities and Challenges of Incoming Chinese Business

The China Enterprise Council's 2010 Annual Conference will focus on challenges and opportunities that come with the increase of Chinese business in the U.S. Market.
12 - 7 pm
Los Angeles Downtown Marriot Hotel

North America

09/15/2010: The Evolution of Sulfur Dioxide Pollution Control in China's Power Sector

< Jeremy Schreifels (U.S. EPA) and Xuehua Zhang (Independent Energy and Environment Consultant) will speak. 
9 - 11 am
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 5th floor conference room

09/22/2010: Worldviews of China, India and Russia: Power Shifts and Domestic Debates

George Washington University will host a policy brief with experts in the areas of Russia, India, and China.
12 - 2 pm
George Washington University, Elliot School, City View Room


ends 10/31/2010: Tibetan Landscapes by Zhonggui Shi

  Tibetan Landscapes -- A Philosopher, Poet and Artist's Spiritual Journey to Tibet 

Bamboo Lane Gallery
410 Bamboo Lane, Los Angeles, CA 90012

ends 12/31/2010: Ancient Arts of China: A 5000 Year Legacy


Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, California 92706
Bowers Museum presents a collection that portrays the evolution of Chinese technology, art and culture.

ends 02/06/2011: China Modern: Designing Popular Culture 1910-1970

Pacific Asia Museum
46 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101
The Pacific Asia Museum presents an exhibition that demonstrates how political ideologies and cultural values are transmitted via everyday objects in China.


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