From a reader with a Chinese surname, in response to my suggestion that Chinese officials stick to scientific data, rather than claims about national dignity, when discussing public health issues like the current flu situation:
"Western journalists are accustomed to the shrewd answers from their own politicians facing offensive/aggressive questions. It's well known that they, the western politicians, are afraid of negative reports for their own political skins. Therefore you may also assume that Chinese officials should behave the same way, if they ever want to be accepted by the western world.
"Unfortunately, I have to say that three years stationing in China has not made you thinking like a Chinese. For most Chinese officials, their reaction toward negative western media reports is mostly about domestic consumption. They have to be resolute and principled when it comes to rebutting the 'western defamations' driven by 'ulterior motives'. It's not only about national pride, but has more to do with not being perceived by Chinese people as weak and not being able to stand up to hostile westerners. This may help you better understand why nationalism is so useful for communist government."
This rings true, and reinforces a point I made several months ago about why the voices of official China -- the government and its spokesmen -- were often so inept in presenting their case to the outside world, even though many individual Chinese people could be quite sophisticated and skillful. As this reader suggests, the root cause is that the system here is mainly inward-looking.
The complications of addressing both internal and external audiences is hardly unique to China. American politics provides examples of this every day. Same with Japan, where bone-headed politicians often play to domestic right-wingers by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, not knowing or caring that this drives people crazy here in China.