Archive for November, 2013

U.S. media pay high price for Chinese censorship

By Frank Ching
Opinion first published in Japan Times
November 12, 2013

HONG KONG – The United States and China are negotiating a bilateral investment treaty. Economic issues come up regularly in the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Yet, while car tires and chicken meat get the attention of American trade officials, certain Chinese actions with dire consequences for a particular sector in the U.S. somehow don’t seem to get discussed as economic issues.

On June 29 last year, Bloomberg News reported that relatives of Xi Jinping, now China’s president, controlled assets valued at more than $500 million. The Bloomberg article made it clear that no assets were traced to Xi himself, his wife or their daughter and said there was “no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.”

That same day, Bloomberg’s websites in China were blocked, denying access to Web content and also to advertising revenue.

A few months later, on Oct. 25, The New York Times published an article about then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, whose relatives “controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.”

English and Chinese-language websites of the paper were immediately blocked. The Bloomberg and New York Times websites remain blocked today.

This, of course, is an example of China’s lack of press freedom. But it is also a direct economic blow to the ability of these media companies to derive income from their business.

Chinese financial institutions have reportedly been told by officials not to buy Bloomberg’s terminals.

As for The New York Times, its Chinese-language website, launched in June 2012 to target “educated, affluent global citizens” in China, was strangled in the cradle.

Moreover, neither news organization has received residency visas from China for new journalists.

The New York Times reported last week that Bloomberg News was curbing “articles that might anger China” and that “Bloomberg’s operations in China have suffered” since its article about the Xi family and “sales of its financial terminals to state enterprises have slowed.”

The article acknowledged that other news organizations, including The New York Times, “have come under similar pressure.”

Such pressure certainly reflects the lack of press freedom in China. The general attitude seems to be that the Chinese actions, while deplorable, must be accepted as a fact of life.

These actions also show how the U.S. media sector operating in China is subject to pressures that Chinese media organizations operating in the U.S. simply don’t have to contend with. Washington has not insisted on reciprocity where news media are concerned even though American law says the U.S. will issue journalist visas on the basis of reciprocity.

China operates under the principle that foreigners in China should observe Chinese rules and regulations, and Chinese living and working overseas should observe foreign laws.

Thus, Chinese are free to do things overseas that foreigners are not allowed to do in China but that, according to Chinese reasoning, is only fair because each side establishes its own rules. Just as Beijing doesn’t insist on press freedom in the U.S., so Washington should not interfere in Chinese internal affairs by asking for press freedom in China.

This line of reasoning results, for example, in a lack of reciprocity where investment is concerned.

In 2005, China attempted to take over the American oil company Unocal but failed. Earlier this year, CNOOC Ltd. successfully acquired Nexen, a Canadian oil and gas company. But under Chinese law foreign companies aren’t allowed to take over Chinese oil companies.

This lack of reciprocity is likely to be tackled during negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty. However, Washington shouldn’t overlook the unfair competition in the media sector.

China is withholding visas not only from Bloomberg and The New York Times. Only days ago, it informed Reuters that Paul Mooney, an American journalist who has been waiting for eight months, would not be granted a resident journalist visa. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not give a reason, but Mooney is known for his persistent coverage of human rights abuses in China.

While Bloomberg and New York Times reporters wait for months for a China visa, the U.S. routinely grants visas to employees of Chinese party and state-controlled media organizations such as Xinhua, the People’s Daily and China Central Television (CCTV).

It is about time Beijing — and Washington — recognized that such actions as denials of visas and blocking of websites amount to trade violations. The inability to report effectively in China — the biggest political and economic story in the world — makes the U.S. media uncompetitive and is much more than lack of press freedom in China. It affects the survival of a key sector of the American economy.

Dharamsala Dispatch 2: Interview with Robert Thurman: Why the Tibetan culture matters

by Eva Cirnu

DD2Anyone interested in Tibet has probably seen Robert Thurman in countless documentaries on Tibet or read his numerous books. In my case, these two mediums were already overwhelming (both in their wide span and in their depth)… so I never thought a third one was possible: a meeting with Robert Thurman himself!

Dr. Thurman was in Dharamsala last week, attending the 26th edition of the ‘Mind and Life Conference’. The event is a unique cross-cultural exchange platform for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, prominent Tibetan Buddhist scholars, as well as researchers and thinkers from all over the world.

As the first American monk of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and long-time Tibet scholar, Dr. Thurman was one of the main event guests. He has studied Tibetan Buddhism with the Dalai Lama himself, and became close friends. At the Dalai Lama’s request, Thurman has created Tibet House U.S., with Richard Gere and Philip Glass: it is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help preserve Tibetan culture in exile.

And that is what brought me to my question: ’Why does the Tibetan culture matter for the rest of the world?’ Cultures disappear every year, languages die, art pieces, stories and songs are lost forever. In the face of the cultural genocide carried on by the Chinese Communist Party, the Tibetan culture is in great danger of being lost as well. And yet, beyond the beauty of the Tibetan arts, the depth of its religion, the richness of its traditions, the Tibetan culture holds another, very important key to the very survival of humanity.

‘The Tibetan culture is a jewel’, an example ‘of what a demilitarized nation can be like’, and of ‘how people can be happy without armies’, Thurman believes.

‘Buddhism tends to demilitarize a culture. There is a pattern in history: when monasteries become powerful in a country, militarism declines. Men have a better quality of life, being more non-violent, meditating, finding inner bliss’, he continues. ‘The example of a culture that persisted, was glorious and had a lot of beauty, literature, art, and educated, peaceful people, happy people, without military (…) that’s Tibet’s contribution to the world’, he concludes.

Dr.Thurman’s vision of a future Tibet is an optimistic one. Through dialog, non-violent means, and by following the Middle-Way Approach, the Tibetan people and their culture would be able not only to survive, but thrive once again on the roof of the world, in harmony with their Chinese neighbors.

Read more on Robert Thurman and his book ‘Why the Dalai Lama matters’:

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.

Dharamsala Dispatch is written by Eva Cirnu, Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section.