Sunday, March 15, 2009

I'm on the BBC ... in Vietnamese!

Late last year, I was approached by the BBC World Service for an unusual project. The 30th anniversary of China's invasion of Vietnam was to take place at the beginning of 2009, and they wanted some commentary about the events -- for their Vietnamese-language service. A producer happened upon my grad school blog and emailed me after seeing that my thesis research covered bilateral relations between China and Vietnam in the late 1970s.

Last week, the translation of my essay was published on the BBC's website. You can read it on the BBC website, or see the screenshot:

Here's the preamble in English:
China’s state news agency provides a window into its Vietnam policies from 1979 to 1989

Many factors contributed to the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese conflict and the decade-long period of poor relations that followed. One way to analyze the relative importance of these factors from China’s point of view is to examine the media coverage from the English-language service of China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency. It is commonly believed that Beijing’s overriding goal was to outflank Moscow’s growing influence in Indochina. However, a computer content analysis of Xinhua articles during this period indicates that China was increasingly preoccupied with Vietnam’s regional ambitions, especially after 1980.

What makes China’s news agency such a useful window into the thoughts of Chinese leaders? It’s not just the access Xinhua employees had to senior officials. The news agency’s English-language service actually served as the official conduit of policy-related information from the central government to the outside world. During the 1970s and 1980s, Xinhua reported to the Chinese Communist Party Department of Propaganda, which gave it a direct connection to Beijing’s leading nucleus. The English-language articles never contradicted the official line, and are recognized as a reliable authority on how China viewed key foreign relationships – including the contentious relationship with Vietnam.

Beyond examining individual articles or pronouncements for clues into China’s attitudes toward Vietnam, it is also possible to analyze the articles in aggregate to discern broad trends. Computer software can measure the volume of coverage about specific topics as well as the positive and negative tone assigned to those topics. Clear patterns are apparent in the data, and they give very interesting insights into the thinking of China’s top leaders.
I am not going to post the entire English version of the essay here, but if you're interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend checking out my thesis here.

I also traveled to Vietnam in 2011, and blogged about some of my experiences there:

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