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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

In China, reporters without orders

October 22, 2008

By Wu Zhong, China Editor
October 21, 2008

HONG KONG - As evidence that the Summer Olympic Games s pushed China
to become a more open society, Beijing has announced an indefinite
extension of the greater freedoms granted for foreign journalists'
during the Games. The press freedom does not include China's restive
Tibet Autonomous Region.

The move suggests that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has
become more self-confident, and may no longer be afraid of "picky"
news reports and "harsh" criticisms from the Western media.

China announced there would be no time limit to the extension of "The
Regulation on News Coverage by Foreign Journalists During

Beijing Olympic Games and Its Preparatory Period". The mandate was
first introduced on January 1, 2007, as part of China's Olympic media
freedom commitments, but was due to expire on October 17.

After the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, Beijing imposed tighter
control on news coverage by foreign journalists in China. Foreign
reporters had to apply for permission on a case-by-case basis to
travel and conduct interviews outside Beijing and Shanghai. This
requirement had been a major hurdle for foreign reporters.

The Olympics' press freedom directive lifted all such bans. Under the
new regulation, foreign journalists outside Tibet can interview
organizations or individuals across the country provided they attain
prior consent.

Wang Chen, the director of the State Council's Information Office
(SCIO), said the extension reflected determination to carry forward
opening-up policies.

When the new regulation was introduced two years ago, reform-minded
officials hoped it would be extended after the Olympics. For example,
Cai Yong, the former director of the SCIO, who helped draft the new
rules, said, "Many years have passed since 1990, during which big
changes have taken place in China as well as in the world. It is thus
in accordance with the trend of the times to make revisions to the
1990 rules ... If the provision regulation [for the Beijing Olympics]
proves good in practice in next more than one year ... I think it is
unnecessary to make changes in a good policy."

Analysts in China say the new rules have greatly strengthened CCP
leaders' self-confidence.

In early March, coverage of pro-independence Tibetan protests in
Lhasa and demonstrations which dogged the Olympic flame relay in
several countries angered Beijing. Some leaders blasted what they
considered biased reports by some Western media.

The Tibet issue struck the very core of Chinese nationalism. As such,
many Chinese bloggers slammed the Western press for "distorted" and
"biased" reports. Many were from the "one-child" generation born
after 1980 who had grown up eating McDonald's and KFC, wearing
Western clothes and watching Hollywood films.

"For Beijing, this proves a failure of the West's attempt to
'peacefully evolve' Chinese youths. Chinese authorities feel happy to
see that the younger generation can tell between right and wrong.
Under such a circumstance, they feel opening up the country to
foreign media won't do much harm to the nation," a sociology
researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said.

As Wang Chen put it, "The [Chinese] government welcomes the foreign
media and reporters. We hope more reports on the country are
published and broadcast to the world. We will spare no effort to
provide help and service to them."

When China's Sichuan province was hit by an eight-magnitude
earthquake on May 12, prompt reports by domestic and foreign media
were of great help to the government's relief efforts. Foreign
coverage in particular helped bring in international aid.
Subsequently, reports of Chinese leaders' activities in the disaster
areas boosted the public image of President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen
Jiabao and others.

This may have been a crucial turning point. Chinese leaders quickly
realized that not all foreign reports about China are negative. "If
society becomes more open, their reports could be objective and
balanced," said Zhan Jiang, a professor in media and communication
with the China Youth University for Political Sciences.

China's leaders have also gained confidence by the financial crisis
which has befallen the United States. China is one the countries
least affected by the international meltdown, largely due to its
semi-closed and less-advanced financial system.

China has for 30 years sought to adapt to international economic
standards, which are largely set by the West. Its ambition has been
to catch up with major capitalist economies, specifically the US.

But while China is moving closer to a free-market economy, the US now
has been forced to to take "socialist" measures to save its
collapsing financial markets. For some Chinese economists,
Washington's moves have been an eye-opener: even in a market economy,
the government cannot always keep its hands off.

According to Marxism, an economy is the foundation of a society and
the political system is a superstructure built on this foundation. A
change in the foundation will eventually lead to a change in the
superstructure. Because of this, many in China and overseas have felt
that the fundamental changes in China's economy will force political
reform. Changing the socialist command economy to a capitalist-style
market economy will lead to democratization in the country, the
thinking goes, because democracy has proved suitable to a market economy.

"But while China is moving toward capitalism, the US, leader of the
capitalist world, seems to be going [towards[ socialism. This
suggests the free economic system in the US has problems. Thus China
may have to review its aim of economic reforms. And under such
circumstance, the voice opposing the introduction of Western-style
democracy and values naturally grows louder, boosting Beijing's
confidence in its own system," the CASS researcher said.

In early September, Steven N S Cheung, a renowned Hong Kong-born
Chinese-American economist living in exile in China due to alleged
tax evasion in the US, has claimed that China "has formed the best
system in the history of human kind".

In sum, Chinese authorities have become much less afraid of possible
advocacy for Western-style democratization by foreign journalists.
This newfound confidence may be one reason to give reporters greater
freedom, analysts say.

The greater freedom for news coverage, however, is not extended to
domestic reporters - a fact deplored by rights groups such as Human
Rights in China, a New-York based activist group.

And there are hurdles ahead for the implementation of the new
regulation, namely local authorities who may not cooperate. As Cai Wu
said, some local officials won't be interviewed because they are
afraid of losing their posts for saying something wrong.

Despite such problems, the extension of press freedom for foreign
journalists must be welcomed as progress. Many Chinese now have
access to foreign reports which the domestic press keeps silent or
reports differently. The result has been balanced knowledge about
current events.

Given Beijing's gradualist approach to reform in the economy, society
and politics, other freedoms may follow. In China, however, these
things take time.
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