Silk Road tales to lull young ones to sleep

A still from an episode of the video series, in which a father tells his daughter about trade across Asia along the old Silk Road and how China plans to help develop the regions it once passed through. China has been trying to polish its approach to
A still from an episode of the video series, in which a father tells his daughter about trade across Asia along the old Silk Road and how China plans to help develop the regions it once passed through. China has been trying to polish its approach to telling its story to sceptical audiences overseas.PHOTO: YOUTUBE/ CHINA DAILY

China taps format in English videos released ahead of forum on Belt and Road project

HONG KONG • Sometimes Goodnight Moon, the children's picture book, just will not do the trick.

So for parents struggling to get their little ones to rest their eyes for the night, China's state propaganda apparatus has a suggestion: Tell your child about President Xi Jinping's ambitions to extend China's political and economic power across Asia and the Middle East.

The official China Daily, which is also aimed at an international audience, began releasing English-language videos this week describing a huge spending and infrastructure push called the Belt and Road Initiative in the form of a children's bedtime story.

In the two videos released so far, a father uses a wind-up camel skittering across a map to describe trade across Asia along the old Silk Road and how China plans to help develop the regions it once passed through.

Mr Xi's name is, of course, dropped prominently. "They're building new things like highways, railways and airports, and even pipelines and Internet cables," says the father trying to put his daughter to bed in a video.

"So it's just about moving stuff around?" she asks.

"That's a big part of it," he says. "But there's a lot more."

In the second video, the father expands on that point. "It's not just about roads, rails and airports to move stuff," he says. "It's also about people and cooperation."

Any country can join, the father says. "But the United States hasn't joined the initiative," he notes.

"It's China's idea, but it belongs to the world."

The video identifies the father as Mr Erik Nilsson, who is listed on LinkedIn as assistant director for features at China Daily.

He did not respond to calls and an e-mail requesting comment. An editor at China Daily's new media desk declined to immediately answer questions.

China has been trying to polish its approach to telling its story to sceptical audiences outside its borders, just as it has at home.

In a video released two years ago, for example, China's official broadcaster repackaged an important but dry story about the formulation of a new five-year economic and development plan into an animated ditty. It refers to the "Shisanwu" - China's 13th five-year plan.

Then there were the foreigners who appeared in a video by the Communist Party's newspaper, People's Daily, calling Mr Xi a great leader, a family man and a handsome fellow.

The Belt and Road videos were released ahead of a forum in Beijing next week dedicated to the initiative. Mr Xi and the leaders of several countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, plan to attend.

It is not clear how China's plans to help build infrastructure across the region will fare. But the benefits could be considerable for the country, which has far too many steel, glass and cement factories and is looking to create markets for that overcapacity.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Silk Road tales to lull young ones to sleep'. Print Edition | Subscribe