SINGAPORE (Jan 21): In the lead-up to the Opium Wars, the main British opium merchants, including Jardine Matheson, orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to the The Times. These carefully crafted letters made many false assertions and were designed to create both anti-Chinese sentiment and to prepare the ground for military action. This campaign was the 1839 equivalent of the Twitter tirades we see today and the carefully planted media stories from anonymous sources.

If lies and distortions are repeated long enough, loudly enough and frequently enough, then it becomes extremely difficult to separate truth from fiction. Social media offers unparalleled opportunity to amplify unsubstantiated or poorly substantiated assertions and, like any complex web of lies, it is a tedious process to unpick the deceit. Social media has infiltrated and influenced the standards and practices of mainstream media reporting, particularly in Western countries. It is not really that important if this is confined to the gossip columns, but it is very significant when this begins to contaminate the formulation of policy.

Economist Stephen Roach, speaking at Morgan Stanley’s annual Asia Pacific Summit in Singapore, questioned the ‘‘facts’’ used to support arguments that China is stealing intellectual property (IP) and using joint ventures to force the transfer of US technology to China.

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