As Russian troops press further into Ukraine, and Ukrainian citizens join with their army to counter the attack, reactions across the West have been emphatic. On Saturday, the United States, the United Kingdom, and their European allies followed up on previously announced sanctions with new measures to punish Moscow by kicking Russian financial institutions out of the SWIFT banking system. As Western news organizations continue to follow events on the ground, Western media is streaming with critical analysis and loud with condemnation. Globally, protestors have taken to the streets in support of Ukraine, and public authorities have responded, lighting up iconic landmarks—including the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and the Brandenburg Gate—in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Sports authorities have canceled major events scheduled to take place in Russia, while throughout the English Premier League, Saturday’s football games began—among tens of thousands and beamed to hundreds of millions—with displays of solidarity, as across the jumbotron in London’s Selhurst Park: WE STAND WITH UKRAINE. None of this extends to China, however, where business continues as usual and newspapers, TV, and the internet present a conflict full of complexity but driven ultimately by legitimate Russian security concerns. Why?

Angeli Datt is a senior research analyst at Freedom House, where she focuses on China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and works on the organization’s China Media Bulletin. Datt says Beijing is trying to strike a delicate balance in shaping Chinese media coverage of the Russian invasion: supporting Russia without endorsing the invasion, or even referring to it as an invasion, while advancing anti-Western narratives—and without fully alienating the United States or the European Union. Datt sees Chinese state media casting Beijing as a responsible actor on the world stage, with President Xi Jinping calling for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. For now, she says, Chinese social media is allowing a little more free-flowing discussion about the attack on Ukraine than it would permit about issues more directly related to China. But Beijing’s sophisticated system of information control ensures that even news from Eastern Europe will be carefully curated and censored for the Chinese people in the considered interests of the Chinese government.

Graham Vyse: How is all the invasion playing in Chinese media?

Angeli Datt: China has accused the U.S. of fanning the flames of this conflict and has long had a very anti-NATO stance, since NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. China consistently says NATO owes it a blood debt.

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