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The Model-UN program, a threat for our media?

Otto Kölbl

Our media want us to believe that the Chinese communist regime tries by all means to prevent its citizens from getting any information about politics, in order to keep the monopoly in this field. However, many elements indicate that this attitude is part of the past. For instance, many Model-UN programs have flourished in Chinese universities and high-schools, after a similar success in other parts of the world. It is quite surprising that our media all agree that this phenomenon must not be revealed to the Western public.

A Model-UN program is an out-of-school activity organized in a high-school, university or college. With the help of a supervising teacher, the students simulate the different UN organs like the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, in order to get familiar with this institution and with international relations in general.

The topic of such a simulation is an international conflict, like for example the Israel-Palestine conflict, the rivalry between Mainland China and Taiwan or the Iranian nuclear program. The students are organized in teams, each of which represents one of the parties of the conflict.

In a first step, the teams must become familiar with the situation and more specifically with the position of the side they represent. During the simulation itself, which will generally take place in English, they must defend their position in the best possible way. In a last step, they must work out a resolution which can put an end to the conflict in collaboration with the other teams. Each team will then be evaluated according to their performance.

The best teams of each school will then take part in simulations at the level of the whole country, and then at international Model-UN conferences. Like this, they can compete with students from other countries and engage in personal exchanges within the framework of various social activities.

Since the early 1990ies, Model-UN programs have become more and more popular in Chinese schools and universities. When I taught in 2005 at the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, I met several students who had taken part in this program. One of them had even travelled to New York for an international conference, thanks to subsidies from the government which covered half of the travelling expenses.

Even if the simulations take place under the eye of a supervising teacher, this does not mean that sensitive topics are "off limits". According to the accounts of one person, even topics like Tibet or Taiwan are frequently talked about. Since the students never defend the position of their own country, their success depends entirely on their capacity to understand and defend the position of somebody else. In each faculty of every public university, there is a secretary of the communist party who checks everything which is going on, it is quite obvious that this activity has got the support of the party.

In 2006, the world summit of the Model-UN program took place for the first time in Beijing. We can consider this as some kind of preparation for the Olympic Games 2008: this summit was also designed to promote direct contacts between people from all over the world and the local population, within the framework of a peaceful competition.

However, this event has not even been mentioned in our media, who do not even mention the same activities in European universities. Many people who study or work in these universities know nothing about this program, even though it exists in their university.

This program certainly contributes to a better understanding between different cultures, and when I talked about this topic to Westerners, they were very much interested. Do our media consider it to be a threat to their information monopoly? Does the egalitarian relation between all the countries which it features question the international leadership of the Western countries? Our media prefer showing us villages lost in the middle of the African savannah or in the mountains of Cambodia where Western philanthropists build a school or save a couple of babies from death through illness.

Moreover, informing about the Model-.UN world summit in Beijing or about these programs in Chinese schools and universities would have forced our journalists to give up the myth of the Chinese people who don't know anything about the outside world, a myth which allows our media in turn to brush aside whatever opinion the Chinese might express, especially if they are quite critical of the Western media.