By Tim Johnson
BEIJING _ Bristling at criticism in the run-up to the Summer Olympics, China is lashing back at its foreign critics _ by name.
Earlier this week, the state Xinhua news agency called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “disgusting.” And on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu lambasted a CNN commentator, Jack Cafferty, for his “vicious” commentary on China.
“We solemnly request that CNN, and Cafferty himself, take back the malicious remarks and apologize to the Chinese people,” Jiang said at a news briefing.
Protests plaguing the global Olympic torch relay, along with mounting criticism of China’s handling of domestic unrest by Tibetans, have embittered many Chinese. As foreign leaders discuss whether to boycott the Olympics’ opening ceremonies on Aug. 8, Chinese Internet sites are replete with their own mounting calls for boycotts of foreign goods, souring the mood as the nation prepares to host its biggest international event ever.
A mood of angry nationalism has spurred government officials to lash out at foreign critics, trying to stay ahead of public resentment _ even fury _ that foreigners may spoil the Summer Olympics party with what some see as unwarranted criticism.
Several foreign journalists, including correspondents for USA Today and The Times of London, say they’ve received death threats.
China went through similar periods of surging nationalism in April 2005 when anti-Japanese riots erupted in several cities and in 1989 when gangs attacked U.S. diplomatic installations in China after a U.S. bomb hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three people.
Russell Leigh Moses, a foreign political scientist based in Beijing, said Chinese officials risk reaping a whirlwind from the nationalist feeling.
“There’s still the opportunity for enlightened officials to step forward and get a better handle on this anti-Western media sentiment before it truly gets out of hand,” Moses said.
In a commentary Sunday, Xinhua said Pelosi, who met last month in India with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, “is detested by the Chinese people.” It accused her of displaying a “stubborn anti-China sentiment and uneasiness about China’s peaceful rise.”
Cafferty, a resident curmudgeon at CNN, sounded off on China on the program “The Situation Room” on April 9. He said the United States imports “their junk with the lead paint” and its “poisoned pet food” while losing factory jobs to China, a country run by “the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.”
Jiang, the ministry spokeswoman, said Cafferty “used his microphone to denigrate China and Chinese people” and that his remarks constitute racism.
The firestorm began among angry Chinese immigrants in the United States who launched an online petition drive (www.petitiononline.com/cnncaff/petition.html) to protest Cafferty’s remarks. Coverage quickly crossed into China, where citizens had already launched an Internet campaign against CNN, accusing it of biased coverage in mid-March of an uprising of ethnic Tibetans demanding greater freedom.
A Chinese “anti-CNN” Web site contained plenty of vitriolic remarks against Cafferty by Tuesday.
“Nobody should ever take this hyperthyroid rooster too seriously,” said one commenter, adding that Cafferty is prone to “anti-Chinese diarrhea.”
“I was watching CNN when I heard him say that, and I almost smashed the TV,” said another of the less profane postings.
Internet demands for boycotts have unnerved some foreign companies. Following the Olympic flame’s troubled passage through Paris on April 7, activists called on Chinese citizens to boycott Carrefour, a French supermarket chain that is the largest foreign retailer in China, starting on May 1.
Anonymous mobile phone text messages accuse the retailer of backing the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing blames for instigating unrest in Tibet, a charge the retailer denies.
Many Chinese are incensed that a pro-Tibet protester in Paris lunged to snatch the torch from Chinese athlete Jin Jing, who was in a wheelchair. State television in China has portrayed Jin as a hero for hanging onto the torch.
Jiang, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, denied that the government was promoting the boycotts, but she added, “We hope the French side can listen to the Chinese people’s voices concerning the recent problems and adopt an objective stance.”
(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Fan Di contributed to this report.)
© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.