A reporter wants to change China’s view of the Ukraine war

SWang Zhi’an has worked for Chinese State Television for 11 years. He later switched to the party newspaper “Beijing News”. He fell out of favor three years ago. Banned from all social networks in China, Wang lost his job and moved to Japan. Since then, he has published video comments on YouTube, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers. He has been traveling in Ukraine for a week. His goal: to question the official Chinese reporting on the Russian war of aggression.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

If what Wang Zhi’an says is true, then no reporters from major Chinese state and party media are currently stationed in Ukraine. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, when he was still with CCTV, the broadcaster sent four teams. Currently, CCTV mainly distributes material from Russian state television and quotes official Russian sources. “That means most Chinese people get their information about the war from the perspective of the perpetrators,” says 54-year-old Wang in a video from Kyiv. “That’s why they misunderstand war. We hope to correct that through our interviews and tell them the truth about this brutal war.”

Interlocutors are afraid of repression

Wang drives to Sumy, not far from the Russian border. He interviews the Ukrainian local commander, relatives of a fallen soldier and neighbors of killed civilians. Above all, however, he wants to tell the war from the point of view of Chinese students and business people in Ukraine, probably to make the events understandable for a skeptical Chinese audience. That turns out to be difficult. Wang hardly finds any compatriots willing to pose in front of his camera. They are afraid that their families in China will suffer as a result, the reporter says. A student in Sumy gives him an off-screen interview. She is sitting in the driver’s seat of her car. The camera films the windshield, through which you can see Ukrainian passers-by hurrying through the rain with umbrellas. Wang wants to know why she is still there, even though most of her fellow foreign students have left the country. “I can’t be selfish,” says the young woman. Her family paid a lot of money for her studies. She couldn’t jeopardize that. She must think of her siblings.

In a calm tone, the student tells how she fled to Lemberg after the Russian invasion in February and a few weeks later drove more than a thousand kilometers back to Sumy in her car. She tells how Ukrainians helped her illegally get enough diesel for the long journey. How the Ukrainian soldiers waved her through at the checkpoints, even though she didn’t have car insurance.

The Ukrainian soldiers are “good, reasonable people”

Only at the end of the uncut video does the Chinese journalist ask the student what she thinks about the war. “In the small town where I live, the Russians killed a lot of people. Not just soldiers, ordinary people.” She thinks it’s perfectly understandable that residents now hate Russia the way Chinese hated Japanese after they invaded. The student disagrees with the official Chinese interpretation that the war was caused by NATO expansion. “Ukraine is a sovereign country. Which organization she wants to join is her choice. The days of the Soviet Union are over.” During the years of her studies in Ukraine, she never met the alleged neo-Nazis mentioned in Chinese and Russian reports. The Ukrainian soldiers are “good, reasonable people who protect us”.

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