street of shame

A final payment in Liu…
China and the Telegraph , Issue 1540

SO. Farewell then veteran Telegraph columnist Liu Xiaoming, who revealed to readers last week that he is leaving his day job – Chinese ambassador to London – after 11 years.

BEIJING BRIEFING: Telegraph editor Chris Evans in 2015 with his well-briefed 'columnist', ambassador Liu Xiaoming
“There are so many things I shall never forget,” he wrote in a valedictory column. As well as “the forever-flowing River Thames” and “the smiles on the faces of children”, there was “the deep affection of my friends in the UK”.

Some of his most affectionate friends have been the bosses of the Telegraph. Liu's first piece appeared in April 2010, just a month after he presented his credentials at the Foreign Office. Headlined “The Shanghai Expo is a worthy symbol of today's China”, it claimed that the forthcoming trade fair “will be another wonderful opportunity for China, Britain and the world to celebrate our common humanity and common achievements”.

This boilerplate prose set the tone for dozens of columns over the next decade in both daily and Sunday Telegraphs, under must-read headlines such as “A warm wind is blowing in from the East: The visit of China's Vice Premier is a happy symbol of Sino-UK ties”, “Britain is helping us build a new Silk Road”, “Confucius is key to China-UK friendship”, “China's focus is on peace, co-operation and hard work” – and, er, “Britain can and must work with Huawei on 5G”. In 2012 he even wrote a travel feature about holidays in Tibet (“a fascinating place to visit… Tibetan culture is as special as ever”), taking the chance to dismiss the Dalai Lama as “ridiculous”.

'Beijing in full bloom'
As if that weren't enough Liu to inflict on readers, there were also “exclusive” interviews. The intro to one from 2015 by Allister Heath gives the flavour: “In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, China's ambassador Liu Xiaoming, says the future is bright for business between the two countries.”

As Eye readers will know, the pulpit granted to Liu was a quid pro quo for the £800,000 a year the Telegraph was paid by the People's Republic for carrying a monthly China Watch propaganda supplement, written by hacks from the Chinese Communist Party. The paper's website also ran “sponsored” stories that were provided by the state-run China Daily but presented in the same typography and layout as normal Telegraph articles.

Besides the supplements, there were Chinese full-page ads at a further £45,000 apiece. Some, timed to appear on the same day as the ambassador's column, were placed by the Xinhua news agency and carried such thrilling items as “Beijing in full bloom as vast horticultural exhibition begins”. Anonymous pro-Beijing propagandists chipped in too, including the unidentified benefactor who spent £90,000 on two full-page ads in July 2016, headed “The Philippines' South China Sea Arbitration Against Law”.

Those ads were the paper's reward for its wise editorial decision the previous month to run an op-ed by Liu Xiaoming attacking the Philippines for “playing with fire in the South China Sea” – followed days later by a long comment piece from Fu Ying, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the National People's Congress, depicting the South China Sea dispute as a US-led conspiracy aimed at “undermining China's interest”.

Xi Jinping Thought
Alas, the lucrative love-in came to an abrupt end in last year's lockdown, just after Eye 1519 pointed out that while the newspaper's comment pages were urging “We must now treat China like a hostile state”, the Telegraph website maintained a feed of relentless good news supplied by the Chinese Communist Party. In the second week of April 2020, the rolling news from China Daily and the complete archive of China Watch supplements were erased from the Telegraph website.

Not all history can be deleted so comprehensively, however. While the Telegraph has removed every trace of its decade-long kowtowing, the Chinese embassy still has a large archive of press releases and pictures showing a procession of senior editorial figures visiting the ambassador to be instructed in the finer points of Xi Jinping Thought. They include the charming 2015 picture of Telegraph editor Chris Evans congratulating His Excellency on the launch of his Facebook page (see above).

How touching that although the Chinese gold is no longer rolling in, Evans still gave His Excellency space in the paper last week to bid farewell. Almost as moving as the forever-flowing River Thames…

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Blaming the tabloids, the Independent's Katie Edwards asks why we “love to hate” reality TV star Katie Price. She should read the Indie's own back issues.

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Guardian architecture critic Olly Wainwright discovers the meaning of shame, and the perils of Twitter, when a tweet is applauded by – gulp! – a Tory!

Private Eye Issue 1540
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PM Winston Johnson hails VVE Day – Victory of the Vaccine in Europe… Climate scientists say January 2021 ‘the longest month since records began’… Billionaire hedgies facing bankruptcy accuse poor people of gambling on stocks to make themselves rich… Book Now! Luxury cruiser Marie Celeste still has vacant cabins for 2021… Tony Blair returns from the grave and looks really terrible, writes a worried Count Dracula… Those Tokyo 2021 Olympic Events in full… Parents in shock as public school headmaster comes out as straight… Gregg Wallace watches paint dry, as told to Craig Brown

HSBC in hock
The bank that can’t say no to China

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Bingo for Bingham!
Lessons from the UK’s vaccine success story

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3rd March 2021
Private Eye Issue 1539