Some 1,500 Chinese Americans protested outside CNN’s offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood – a similar demonstration also occurred at the cable news outfit’s Atlanta headquarters – demanding that commentator Jack Cafferty be fired over these comments he made on “The Situation Room” April 9th:

“We continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export … jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we’re buying from Wal-Mart. So I think our relationship with China has certainly changed. I think they’re basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.”

“It’s really unacceptable. It maliciously attacks all Chinese. This would not be accepted if it was directed at any other ethnic group,” John He, an activist told the Los Angeles Times. Said John Chen, another activist: “Most of these people are American citizens and legal resident aliens. We love China and we love America too. We should not be regarded as goons and thugs.”

In a statement, CNN explained that Cafferty’s comments were directed at the Beijing government:

Jack was offering his strongly held opinion of the Chinese government, not the Chinese people. It should be noted that over many years, Jack Cafferty has expressed critical comments on many governments, including the U.S. government and its leaders.  

The Stiletto is no fan of Cafferty’s, but it is clear to any fair-minded person that he was talking about the country’s leadership and not its citizens.

That said, one could argue that the Chinese people themselves are intoxicated with nationalism and instead of leveraging international attention to bring about change from within, they either tacitly approve their government’s human rights abuses or are actively furthering them – despite the wishful claims of one Sue Meng, a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School student who writes in an op-ed published by The Washington Post:

[T]he Chinese government is one thing; 1.3 billion Chinese people are another.

It is important not to conflate China with the Chinese government. The Olympics have stirred an enormous outpouring of nationalism within China and among Chinese abroad. We should not dismiss Chinese nationalism as part and parcel of the Communist machine. Nationalism has forged civic engagement, cutting across groups normally divided by age, class and geography. This engagement leads to greater awareness of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Far from legitimizing an authoritarian regime, the Olympics foster the kind of nationalism that will help the Chinese carve out a civil society, which may be the best antidote.

Unfortunately, the facts on the ground tell a different story:

† Chinese hackers took down CNN’s Web site in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China, and its staff received threats as the network “appears to have become a proxy for what many Chinese see as Western media bias that villainizes China just as the country prepares to make a global splash through its hosting of the summer Olympic Games in Beijing,” reports The Wall Street Journal.  

† The New York Times reports on grassroots efforts by Chinese students and others “stoking a popular backlash against Western support for Tibet” and organizing “a boycott campaign against French companies … [and] against American chains like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Indeed, “intensity of popular passion” is beginning to worry the government, which “lauded the boycott crusade” while admonishing “people not to complicate the government’s aim of encouraging foreign investment in China.”

† The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON) reports that the Chinese government’s state-run news agency is hyping the anti-torch protests to create an “us against them” dynamic: 

 There is mounting evidence – in Internet chat rooms, on the streets and everywhere else where public opinion can be measured – that the Chinese Communist Party has gained popularity and strength as a result of the violence and chaos of the past month. 

It might be facing an Olympic opening ceremony boycott and mounting criticism from abroad, but the government has largely succeeded in mobilizing its 1.3 -billion people into a unified force, giving it the domestic legitimacy it craves for its survival. 

“Thanks to the protests, the Chinese Communists may have consolidated support by its citizens for years to come,” says Roland Soong, a shrewd observer of Chinese politics who runs a blog analyzing the Chinese media. … 

“In a crisis, the nationalist card is one of the most potent that the government can play,” said Willy Lam, a long-time China watcher and political analyst based in Hong Kong. 

“If you read the Chinese websites, there is a campaign of hatred against the Tibetans,” he said. “I think it works. It enables the leadership to divert attention from the mistakes that they have made.” 

And for the record, those “tall, tough-looking young Chinese men in blue-and-white running gear” guarding the Olympic torch on its 130-day, 85,000-mile “Journey of Harmony” – paramiltary-trained volunteers from the People’s Armed Police – have been called “thugs” by the government of Japan, Sebastian Coe, and others. The Australian government has warned Chinese embassy officials that the guards will be arrested on the spot if they lay a hand on a single one of its citizens during the torch relay. 

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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