Securitizing China and international condemnation

Securitizing China and international condemnation: circulating HIV stories and protesting China’s iron fist in international organizations and South Africa

Johanna Hood, Ph.D. Assisant Professor. Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University.

Lisa Ann Richey, Ph.D. Professor. Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University. 

TianXi2

The project examines both local Chinese and international telecommunications media in the English and Chinese language on China’s management of HIV/AIDS and the treatment of local HIV/AIDS activists (huodong renshi). The objective is to explore the popular ways in which these stories and images became securitized within international human rights organizations and in South Africa during World AIDS Day in 2010.

The aim is to use China’s reception internationally as a case study to further develop understandings and consequences of securitization, and in turn explore the impact of these developments on Sino-African relations. To date research has yet to be undertaken on how the visual securitization of health-related media and events and their use within NGO and public-sphere activities impacts social and political relations outside China’s borders. The impacts caused by the popular protests in South Africa and the uptake of their critiques within other NGOs and human rights organizations remain ill-understood.

Stories covering Chinese HIV/AIDS activists and their treatment by China’s public security personnel in the period mid-to late 2010s were circulated by Chinese NGOs and social organizations (minjian zuzhi) to their international counterparts and networks. This resulted in several protests and internet campaigns and petitions calling for further action and release of detained activists. The material which was used, and the greater implications of this international protest the Chinese case reveals, may be understood as an example of securitization. In particular, the ciculation of images of persecuted and/or detained Chinese HIV activists, such as the HIV positive Tian Xi and ‘AIDS Hero’ Dr. Gao Yaojie, enabled a strong critique to be voiced on issues beyond China’s management of HIV in unprecedented ways. Protests were staged at Chinese Embassies and Consulates in South Africa and images of detained Chinese HIV positive activists were used in ways that came to critique China’s supposed new mondernity and ability to belong on the global political stage. In what Heinrich describes as an ‘afterlife of images,’ where images are effectively recycled from one context to another and given new meanings, images and stories about China’s failings to participate in popular discourses and practices involving HIV/AIDS, came to “constitute something or someone as threatened and in need of immediate defense.” (Hansen 2011). Popular uses and protest encouraged critique beyond HIV/AIDS, but more broadly, of China’s Human Rights record, and China’s ability to participate in global modernity by non-EuroAmerican actors.

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