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Clock ticks down on media rules

Less than a month from now, we will find out if China will maintain its attitude of greater openness with the foreign media. My bet is that it won’t.

At the beginning of the year, China relaxed its rules on the foreign media to fulfill pledges for greater freedoms in the period around the Olympic Games. The measures lapse on Oct. 17.

If the old rules come back into play, this is what it means:

  • Reporters will be required again to seek advance permission from the Foreign Ministry for any trip outside of their base, such as Beijing.
  • And reporters will no longer be free to interview anyone who agrees to an interview request. Rather, interviews must be vetted by authorities.

The old rules provide the means to tighten the choke leash at any time. If any nasty stories about tainted food products might arise, for example, authorities can keep us journalists from traveling to the factories or hospitals where the problems are severe.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which has 432 members from 29 countries, issued a statement this week calling on China to keep the greater freedoms that it allowed during the Olympic period.

"The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China urges the government to build an Olympic legacy by enshrining the pledge of openness in new rules for foreign correspondents.

"In keeping with China's efforts to become a more open society, we urge the government to recognize in the new regulations for foreign correspondents that the free flow of information is crucial to the proper functioning of the globalized world."

But at a Foreign Ministry briefing this Tuesday, spokeswoman Jiang Yu offered no hint whatsoever that the relaxed rules would continue in their present form.

She was asked, “Any chance these measures may be extended?”

Her answer, according to a transcript on the Foreign Ministry website, was: “I understand your interest in this issue. The Regulation expires on Oct. 17. I would like to stress that China will carry on the opening-up spirit, welcome foreign journalists as always, and protect their legitimate rights and interests in China according to law, including their right to report. We also hope you will abide by Chinese laws and regulations and cover China in an objective and fair manner.”

I spoke to a veteran diplomatic China-watcher last night who agreed that the signs are not promising. We may soon be slipping backward toward the greater restrictions.

It is a clever system. Under the old way of doing things, we journalists could not do our jobs and follow the law. We could not ask for, and obtain, permission for every interview that is needed to write our stories. So we were in constant violation of the law, which is designed so that our “right to report” is to regurgitate what is told to us by the heavily controlled state-run media. If we stray, and we must or we’d lose our jobs, we can be reprimanded at any moment.

And I’m sure it will be for our own good. After all, authorities know that covering China in an “objective and fair manner” means covering it just like Xinhua or the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling party.


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Being a journalist myself, I often face such problems at work especially when I am in a foreign country. I think that they should look into the reporters point of view to understand them.


"... we bring up Taiwan, as if they are going to invade and that threat is long gone."

Ha ha, I call BS. Ask people in Taiwan if that threat is "long gone."

Why would foreign reporters come to you? From your comments, they can get the same stuff from Xinhua.


I'm not as pessimistic as you are on this matter.However,I thought you might have overestimated the "improvements" made during the Olympics.My point is you should not expect and you haven't actually got much from the Communist authorities for the sake of the Games,but the authorities will somehow regularize or perpetuated the special regulations.In my opinion they won't disgrace themselves in such an open manner and that's very delicate.At least the websites unblocked have so far been accessible.


Your blog is very insightful and sophisticated. Seeing as you are clearly such an expert on China, I am curious to what you think of a recent piece I wrote about China:


Also, would you consider linking to my site if I linked to yours?


It appears that the USA is held to a utopian standard while the bar is set signifcantly lower for China.

@andreas...The situations you allude to (snooping on web traffic etc) have a solution in a democracy ...form a consensus..elect like minded representatives..have them
pass legislation reflecting the unsuitability of government intrusion into our personal communications ...too slow for you?..petition the government directly...demonstrate..massive crowds have a way of getting politicians attention. These peaceful alternatives are not available to the Chinese in case you have not noticed.

You have a biased/discriminating time line as far as China is concerned. You refer to Tianamen Square as happening almost 20 years ago and thus it's relevance to you seems a thing of the past yet in the same breath you refer to 250 years of abuse by the "West".Either history is pertinent or it is not...To you the "Great Leap Forward",The "Cultural Revolution",and "Tianamen Square massacre" occurred many years ago and do not shape your view or evaluation of the China. Yet the opium wars of the mid 1800's are relevant? Selective history does not fortify your views, rather it dilutes them. I believe that is one factor as to why no reporter is knocking on your door so you can spout your slanted perspective. Consistency is not your strong suit......BTW some of your pictures are quite good..perhaps you should let your pictures speak "their 1000 words" since yours fall far short of the mark.

All things considered would you rather have Tim reporting on the current tainted milk scandal or the drone of the day from Xinhua?


Is anyone going to hold China to account on the promises it made that hosting the Olympics would improve human rights in China?

China’s officials must let people practice whatever religion or spiritual practice they choose. Just like they must let journalists go about their business without censorship, and let peaceful human rights defenders campaign on whatever issues they like, and just like they must let ethnic minorities to express their culture.



I agree with James. Often, news about China is one-sided to the point of misleading. Yes, there is censorship in China, but Chinese use proxy servers, so they bypass censors. But what about the USA? The US snoops on all web traffic, all emails, all phone calls. And we can't get around that. Do we hear about that when we read about censorship in China?


@James Blix - I think you may have totally misunderstood old Pfeffer there . . .

James Blix


Have you been to China? From the tone of your post I'd say you haven't or if you have, you came here with blinders on.

A country is NOT just about government or politics, it is more about the people and the things they enjoy in life.

That is one of the reasons I have chosen to live here.

James Blix




I think the Chinese are waiting for you to perform the regime change. Just not sure if you will be greeted with flowers or something else. Will you write to your congressman to drop bombs on Beijing ASAP? Can't wait.



"covering China in an “objective and fair manner” means covering it just like Xinhua or the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling party."

Xinhua and western media are two pathetic clowns. Xinhua does everything to "beautify" China as if China was a paradise while western media seek to demonize China as if China was this shit hole where there is nothing positive going on. You are all in the same boat.

So Tim, I really have no sympathy and love for you or Xinhua.



can't you read tongue in cheek?

James Blix


First off, I want you to look up the word communist and tell me how china is communist when that is the opposite of capitalism. (Henry Kissinger and many others far smarter then you and I say China is communist in name only) Second, the Chair of the World Health Organization is a Chinese national and WHO expressly forbids organ harvesting for profit, third, there is a lot of evidence the recent trouble in Tibet had a lot of western influence, fourth, Tienanmen was almost 20 years ago and things have vastly changed since then, and fifth, your ending, what in the hell are you talking about?




Greater freedom? Where's the lesser one? Are the commies not harvesting human organs, genociding Tibetans, group-executing Tiananmen students? China is hell, China needs a regime change, China needs precise bombs, period.

James Blix


I worked in the business of news for ten years. My biggest complaint is we report the news, but we also editorialize it. Such as in my lead post, calling their president a stone faced dictator.

If there is a demonstration in China, we usually bring up Tienanmen Square, which is close to 20 years old.

Or if it's about their military rebuilding, we don't mention they are still using airplanes from WWII while we bring up Taiwan, as if they are going to invade and that threat is long gone.

I believe China has a right to restrict the foreign press. Considering that the west, over a 250 year period bankrupted the country, addicted the people to Opium, helped bring on three wars (Both opium wars and the Boxer rebellion), helped install governments that were corrupt, which eventually resulted in the peasants rising up under Mao. Mao then closed the country to everyone for almost 30 years.

China has learned from its mistakes and is improving things at their own pace. Not the pace the west wants, but rather a pace they feel is right for their society.

Of course that doesn't always make it right. But does China really need to develop a thicker skin? No, they are doing that on their own. Remember, even a decade ago, foreigners such as myself were restricted in our travels. Now we can travel most anywhere we want. Foreign reporters have freedoms today that were unheard of a decade ago.

The west has a big misunderstanding of China and that has a lot of to do with our over reporting on the bad, while grossly under reporting the good.

I can't tell you all the email I have gotten from people asking simple things, like can people own cars, homes, buy furniture, or even buy TV's. The west has a skewed vision of China that did exist in the 50's and is nowhere true today.

We need to give China credit where credit is due, instead of continually bashing her.




Oh James... I was just referring to your comment about how much China knows about US and vice versa....

I do agree with you --- that there need to be a lot of work both ways --- and dialog that leeads to a common perspective / understanding / standards that either party can use to judge themselves or others.

China is improving overall, and there are huge disparities between the good and the bad, just as there are in the US.

The problem is, Chinese reporters in the US do not make a point of rooting out the evils and bad stories about the US... which there are plenty if they only just did their job American style.

Likewise, Chinese tend to be rather thin skinned about foreigners doing the same thing in China.

Clearly there is room for China to develop a thicker skin and more tolerance for these stories.

But remember --- the press is not interested in just bad stories, but in stories that sell advertising. If the good stories sold ads, China's complaints would be rather easy to address.

Over to you!

James Blix


I believe you missed my point. We have a bad habit of pointing out others shortfalls while NOT pointing out our own. It is, do as we say, not as we do.

As one Chinese official put it when an American politician was complaining in China about human rights violations said, and I'll paraphrase, "When you clean up your own act, then we can discuss ours." This was in the wake of the charges at Gitmo, Iraq prisons, and of course our over burdened and over crowded prison system.

I know very well China has problems, some big ones that I am glad the USA doesn't have.

Yet my biggest complaint is the way we report on China, usually pointing out the bad, and never ever giving them any credit for making huge strides in the last 30 years in a very positive direction. In short, I am tired of the China bashing when we should be repairing our own backyard first.

James Blix.




You wouldn't happen to be related to Hans Blix?

Things are not that bad... James, but it can sure get better.

In the interest of protecting the guilty, I might point out that a certain few high ranking officials of the China FCC is, IMHO, and based on my personal observation of their behavior, emotionally of dubious balance, with lots of axes to grind and plenty of chips on their shoulders.

On the bright side, occasionally they are level headed because they have big chips on both shoulders --- but not when they are walking or chewing gum --- then they get unbalanced.


Regulation is necessary for everything. Looked at Wall street, the lag of proper regulations caused such a big mess.

James Blix

In a way I don't blame the Chinese. We habitually put our morals on them when we fail to look at our own backyard.

In news articles from Reuters, they have called President Hue a stone faced dictator. That is an impossible label.

Or going to great lengths to point out the problems in Tibet, while ignoring our two wars we are in, both of them under questionable circumstances.

Or lead articles following the earthquake about how the people were not equally taken care of, while ignoring our own disasters, like Katrina that really exposed how terrible we manage our own natural disasters.

Or an article that pointed a grim picture of another Tianamen type atrocity and painting it as a repression of freedom of expression, was in fact a demonstration against illegal land grabs by corrupt officials which was reported in China and ignored in the west.

I have said this a thousand times, what the west knows of China would fit in a thimble, what the west thinks they know would fit in a barrel. That includes the pizzz poor way the west reports on China.

I live in the center of China as a transplanted American and I have offered my side of the story to reporters that habitually get it wrong. To date, no reporter has contacted me or asked for an opinion. All I am met with is silence. You guys really don't give a damn, all you want to do is stick with the status quot.

I am not saying China is perfect, but you are so imperfect when it comes to your reporting that it borders on criminal.

I really don't blame China for locking you out.

James Blix



Not so long ago, weekly trips by US Treasury officials got the Chinese government to sharply revalue the yuan, on the understanding that a) it is done quietly, and, b) with no apparent sign of pressure from the US.

The only problem is, the revaluation went to such extremes that exports have been slaughtered --- where are the American officials now that China should be told that devaluation is about the only solution left to revive the export sector?

At least American officials knew how to work China quietly and behind the scenes.

However, when it comes to foreign reporters, they apparently have no such inclinations and prefer to issue denouncations.

Are foreign reporters as a professional group incapable of working quietly in the background for real change?

I am almost thinking they got what is coming to them --- they asked for it.

Maybe they can go for 70 virgins instead of 70 sources instead?


According to a Boxun article yesterday, the websites of Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and BBC are now blocked.


The best way to ensure that the regulations will come back is to make a big deal about it, including formal statements like the one issued above that strokes the egos of the China FCC executive who made themselves think they are important.

By issuing that statement, the Ministry have no choice but to reimpose the regulations at least formally, or to lose face from having to back down because of the foreigners complaints.

If the FCC had kept their mouths shut, the odds on favorite is that the relaxation would have been quietly formalized without anyone losing face.

Sometimes, I wonder about the metatarsal matter that fill the heads of these highly paid, uppity foreign journalists. Are they really working for press freedom or do they fancy themselves being martyred?

Do martyred FCC members in China get 70 sources in heaven?

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"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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