Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Fairest of Them All? : The Global Politics of Representation : China in Politics of Climate Change and the Copenhagen Summit

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202007093704
Title: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Fairest of Them All? : The Global Politics of Representation : China in Politics of Climate Change and the Copenhagen Summit
Author: Tirkkonen, Anna-Kaisa
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies (2010-2017)
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2020
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202007093704
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/317603
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Kehitysmaatutkimus
Development Studies
U-landsforskning
Abstract: This study analyses Western media representation of China in the 2009 Copenhagen Summit and international climate politics. The data is interpreted in the context of country categorisations like developed and developing and global power struggle in a situation where China is rising. The analysis is rooted in semiotic approach to language, the concept of the Other and the representation of the non-Western Other in the West. It examines how China is represented as an actor in COP15 and climate politics, how its national image and changes in its international position are portrayed and how the portrayals relate to Western representations of the “non-West” as the Other. The data consists of articles in the Guardian and the Observer including at least one China-related keyword and published between December 19, 2009 and October 31, 2010. The analysis was based on the method of Qualitative Content Analysis, basic tenets of cultural studies, the idea of the hermeneutic circle and close reading. The analysis demonstrated that portrayals of China don't form a unified regime of representation. They are rooted in evaluations of China's moral goodness and immorality. China is portrayed both positively and negatively. The data is characterised by intertextuality and steers the reader towards preferred readings that often depend on which actor's perspective is given dominance. The representations are characterised by competing and contradictory tendencies as the world powers battle to influence the politics of representation for benefits like favourable national images. In this process they profit from the ambiguous and shifting relationship between representation, interpretation and reality. Some representations fit typical Othering tactics, especially when viewed in the light of West's underlying desire to be seen as a morally good global leader while retaining control of the world economy. The process of identity building through the Other and the goal of defending Western policies in the eyes of the public possibly motivate these representations. They portray China as inscrutable, immoral, selfish, scheming, overpowering and/or threatening and at times also represent it as reactive, weak, incompetent and/or dependent on the West. These portrayals are opposed by contrasting representations and did not form a consistent pattern not explainable through other factors; a quality that should be considered as a metric when examining possible Othering of countries in the context of representing their governments in the international sphere. Examined as a whole the representations fall under the principle of freedom of speech at the basis of Western media ideal which demonstrates the biggest strength of Western media compared to China's controlled media landscape. Considering the variety of possible explanations, for a reader without insider knowledge it is very difficult to determine “the truth”. This highlights the importance of covering international affairs from varied, conflicting viewpoints. Western voices got more space to define China than the Chinese government. Some of that is attributable to Western media's better access to Western sources but it also reveals a dilemma in representing non-Western governments in Western media: given the opportunity, governments tend to craft narratives beneficial to them. Unchecked this tendency amounts to propaganda by foreign powers but curbing it can be interpreted as a symptom of “speaking on behalf of the Other”. In the decade since the summit China has become a major world power and is actively advancing its interests globally. It is important to approach it as a de facto superpower instead of implicitly seeing it as a mistreated Other. The theories of the West and its Others should not automatically be assumed to apply to a setting where powerful nations represent each other. They provide a strong frame of interpretation which may lead to approaching the question of representation in international relations with the premise of a biased West acting unfairly towards a victimised Other. In order to more reliably examine Othering tendencies in media in the context of rising China, more cross-national comparative media analysis is needed. The “artificial” nature of concepts like Eastern and Western civilisation is not enough to disregard their usefulness for example as basis for national and regional identities and as tools that encourage people to cooperate in societies. The problem lies in crafting positive self-identities through viewing the perceived Others as inferior and using that as a tool for domination. Instead of refuting the value of the concept of European values and culture, the theories of the West and its Others are helpful in encouraging critical examination of the concrete global actions of Western governments compared with their rhetoric. The study argues for a careful approach when examining if the West at present represents China as the Other. This should include considering other possible explanations in addition to Othering for representations seemingly fitting the model as well as striving for a nuanced understanding of changes in the global power balance.
Subject: Media representation
the Other
Orientalism
politics of representation
regime of representation
national image
COP15
Copenhagen Summit
climate change
Subject (yso): Mediarepresentaatio
toiseus
orientalismi
COP15
ilmastokokoukset


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