Tag Archives: China

The story to watch: Hong Kong

By Christopher B. Daly 

Where will the new Hong Kong protests lead? Hard to say.

For decades, it has been widely assumed that if there were a serious blow delivered against the regime in China, it would fall at Tiananmen Square, the huge paved space in Beijing linking one of the ancient seats of power (the Forbidden City) and the current seat of power (the Great Hall of the People). Tiananmen, which was the site of the last serious challenge to the government in 1989, is tightly guarded by soldiers, undercover cops, and surveillance cameras.

But it may be that the government’s unsleeping gaze (like the Eye of Sauron) is looking in the wrong place. In faraway Hong Kong, young protesters are demanding the right to vote for their leaders — a demand that the regime in Beijing cannot possibly grant. Having taking Hong Kong back from the British in 1997, I believe that the Chinese have no intention of fulfilling their promise to allow Hong Kong residents to elect their leaders by 2017. The young demonstrators are challenging the government directly, which could force a showdown that will demand the world’s attention.

Follow the unfolding coverage in the NYTimes, the South China Morning Post, the Guardian, the BBC. Some terrific early photos are here at NYT.

Any other good sources, with independent, on-the-ground reporters and photographers?

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Bloomberg News in China: Pulling punches?

By Christopher B. Daly 

The company known as Bloomberg — founded by Medford native and, oh, yeah, former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg — is really several companies. The one that made Mr. Bloomberg a billionaire is one that makes and sells proprietary terminals that big-time investors use to trade stocks. Mr. Bloomberg also runs a news service that originally just covered business but in recent years has ventured further and further afield until it has emerged as something like a full-service news agency along the lines of the AP or Reuters.

Trouble is, Bloomberg News is a comparatively small part of Bloomberg’s overall business. And when covering news jeopardizes the company’s other interests — by, for example, pissing off the leaders of China — then Bloomberg corporate executives will step in and protect the core business, at the expense of the journalism.

That appears to be just what happened this week, when Bloomberg corporate chairman, Peter T. Grauer, discussed China.

“We have about 50 journalists in the market, primarily writing stories about the local business and economic environment,” Mr. Grauer said in response to questions after a speech at the Asia Society. “You’re all aware that every once in a while we wander a little bit away from that and write stories that we probably may have kind of rethought — should have rethought.”

Translation from corporate-speak: We are not a real news organization that wants to tell the truth no matter what and let the chips fall where they may. Bloomberg wants the chips to fall in his pocket. It’s his company, and he can do as he likes. But no one should be under any illusions.

If a story is true and interesting and you withhold it, you are engaging in self-censorship. If you really are in the news business, that approach, over the long run, is bad for business.





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What China really fears: a free press

By Christopher B. Daly 

[Update: TNR weighs in with a piece stressing the perils of self-censorship.]

Through their statements and actions, the leaders of China are showing their true colors. For all their talk about moving toward a more modern, open, accountable society, China’s leaders refuse to budge on one issue. Their policies indicate that what they fear above all — even more than U.S. fighter jets cruising through contested air space — is a free press. Specifically, they fear a U.S.-style press that insists on afflicting the powerful by investigating them.

The evidence is in the Chinese handling of recent revelations by reporters for the New York Times and Bloomberg. American journalists who cover China have made dramatic disclosures about how the families who hold power in China manage to use that power to enrich themselves personally. The bar for this kind of reporting was set by David Barboza of the Times (and a Boston University alumnus, BTW), whose series “The Princelings” won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.

The Chinese reaction was characteristically blunt: the government in Beijing pulled the plug on the NYTimes in China, banning the print and electronic editions. Now the government is dragging its heels on renewing the visas that journalists like Barboza need to stay in the country and continue their work.

Here is a quote from a Chinese Foreign Ministry official that captures the issue perfectly:

“As for foreign correspondents’ living and working environments in China, I think as long as you hold an objective and impartial attitude, you will arrive at the right conclusion.”

What this reveals is an outlook that holds that there is a “right conclusion” — which is determined by the Communist Party — and that the task of journalists is to discern the party’s views and stick to them. In other words, don’t rock the boat.

The issue is such an irritant between the U.S. and China that vice president Joe Biden put it on the agenda during his visit to China this week. From today’s NYT version:

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. raised the issue here in meetings with President Xi Jinping and other top Chinese leaders, and then publicly chastised the Chinese on Thursday for refusing to say if they will renew the visas of correspondents and for blocking the websites of American-based news media.Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

“Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences,” Mr. Biden said in a speech to an American business group.

At a meeting on Thursday with Beijing-based reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg, Mr. Biden said that he warned Chinese leaders, in a formal session and over dinner, that there would be consequences for China, especially in the Congress, if it forced out the journalists. But he said Mr. Xi appeared unmoved, insisting that the authorities treated reporters according to Chinese law.

If only the U.S. had some good options for pressuring the Chinese. We could exclude Chinese journalists from working in the United States, but that’s a terrible idea. We do not want to sink to the level of unprincipled tactics used by the Chinese, and we want to encourage more coverage of America in China, not less.

I don’t have a great answer here, except for patience. It is an article of faith with me that the truth will out and that in the long run, the power of the press will win out. Besides, I have one other reason for optimism: I teach a lot of young Chinese students about American journalism — its history, its principles, its techniques. Most of them go back to China, and when they return they bring some lessons they are unlikely to unlearn.


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What China really needs: press freedom

By Christopher B. Daly 

What ails the Chinese economy? According to a recent story and column in the NYTimes, it’s a lack of confidence among Chinese consumers in the safety of the products — from baby formula to cars to pork — made in their own country. They lack confidence for good reasons, but they lack the means to do much about it other than smuggle in substitutes.

I would submit that one missing ingredient is a free press that could reveal the abuses, shortcuts, and shoddy practices that undermine Chinese products. In his column, Joe Nocera gave this idea a quick nod.

In the United States, of course, it has become religion among conservatives to denounce regulation, saying it stifles business and hinders economic growth. But consider: At the turn of the last century, America was as riddled with scam artists as China is today. Snake oil salesmen — literally — abounded. Food safety was a huge issue. In 1906, however, Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” his exposé-novel about the meatpacking industry. That book, pointed out Stanley Lubman, a longtime expert in Chinese law, in a recent blog post in The Wall Street Journal, is what propelled Theodore Roosevelt to propose the Food and Drug Administration. Which, in turn, reformed meat-processing — among many other things — and gave consumers confidence in the food they ate and the products they bought.

That is fine as far as it goes, but it’s a bit reductionist. The fact is, it took a sustained campaign by a lot of muckraking journalists to build public support for reform, and it took a political system that could (with sufficient effort) bring about change, and it took a political movement (Progressivism) that was poised to mobilize that public sentiment into electoral and legislative results.

Ironically, the same issue of the NYTimes has a roundabout confirmation of the virtue of regulation: the red-state folks who raise catfish are worried that Washington will fail to fund the federal office that oversees inspections of catfish. No inspectors, no public confidence, no sales.



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China’s clean-air subsidy

By Christopher B. Daly 

Having just returned from two weeks in China, I can confirm the point made in a story in today’s New York Times: China’s air is filthy. People routinely wear surgical masks just to avoid breathing in all the particulates. It feels like Pittsburgh or Manchester of the late 19th Century.

Two points:

–China’s energy companies are as short-sighted as our own, lobbying to continue polluting the air. But at least on CCTV I did not see any ads touting the oxymoronic “clean coal.” Coal is coal, and coal is dirty. From today’s Times piece by Edward Wong:

Even as some officials push for tighter restrictions on pollutants, state-owned enterprises — especially China’s oil and power companies — have been putting profits ahead of health in working to outflank new rules, according to government data and interviews with people involved in policy negotiations.


–We in the States should be aware that China is subsidizing our own clean skies by putting up with the pollution that makes their products so cheap. Walmart and other retailers could not stock their shelves with such low-priced goods if China took the necessary steps to clear its own skies. If they really insisted on air that is as clean as that in the US or Europe, China would have to install scrubbers, switch to cleaner fuels, and invest in a lot of new greener technology. In that case, the price of manufacturing would go up, and we would have to pay a bit more for all the cheap stuff we import. Which would not be the worst thing.

Here’s a photo I took in Xi’an, a city of about 10 million in east-central China:

Power plant in Xi'an, China.

Power plant in Xi’an, China.

And here’s a Beijing sunrise:


It really is that bad.


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In China’s censorship struggle, who’s a liberal?

By Christopher B. Daly 

The struggle over censorship continues in China. While it plays out, American journalists are struggling over political nomenclature.

This has been a problem since early in the 20th Century, when first the Russians and later the Chinese and others had communist revolutions. After that point, those former insurgent leftists became the establishment (with a vengeance, to be sure). They often faced right-wing opposition, which wanted to reverse those revolutions and restore the old (dictatorial) regimes.

But at a certain point, those old communist regimes faced a new insurgency — call it “progressive” perhaps? — that was not counter-revolutionary but was not happy either.

In Russia, in eastern Europe and elsewhere and now in China, people began to challenge the regime on the grounds that they wanted real liberation. They demanded such things as:

–rule of law

–accountability of government officials

–free and fair elections


–free speech & press

–economic opportunity

Many of these demands overlap with the cluster of values often associated with classical “liberalism” in the West. But the term “liberal” was re-purposed in the 20th Century to refer to people like FDR who support the use of government power to intervene in the industrial economy in the interest of full employment and economic security for all.

So, by either definition, it makes little sense to refer to those brave Chinese demanding press freedom as “liberals.” They are not exactly “leftists” either, at least not by most definitions. (Granted, they are, in some ways, to the left of the putatively leftist regime they are challenging, but in terms of political labels, it’s pretty hard to put these people to the left of Mao.)

They are certainly not Communists or communists, either.

It often makes sense to call them “critics,” but then China has right-wing critics too. Journalists often fall back on the all-purpose “dissident,” which has its uses and may not be the worst label, in a pinch.

But this is not a simple question, and it appears to need an answer, judging from the comments accompanying today’s Times story. But it will have to wait. Far more urgent, of course, is the issue of ending censorship.







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News about the News

By Christopher B. Daly

As so often happens, the Monday business section of the New York Times delivers an array of stories about journalism and media worth reading. (Why doesn’t the paper have a “media” tab on its homepage?)

1. David Carr reports on talks between CNN, the ratings-challenged cable news pioneer, and Anthony Bourdain, the macho chef/traveler of Travel Channel fame. CNN execs are trying to address a problem I discuss in my new book (Covering America), which is much easier to formulate than to solve: what can a news-oriented cable channel do to fill all those hours when all hell is not breaking loose?

Bourdain could be part of the answer.

What else might help CNN? You comment; you decide!


2. Following up on the recent cutback in printing by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, comes a look at the broader trend, including some pros and cons.

3. From London, word that Rupert Murdoch’s troubles extend into an area he really cares about: the circulation figures of his newspapers.

4. From Shantou, a piece about how tricky it can be for Westerners to teach journalism to Chinese students in China. As a Westerner who teaches journalism to Chinese students in Boston, I can certainly sympathize. This piece also includes a bonus: an answer to the question of what Peter Arnett has been up to since he was forced out of CNN (in a failed attempt to pump up CNN’s prime-time audience ratings — see item #1 above).

So, there you go. (Just a typical Monday at the Times: four original, reported stories from across the globe that other people will be talking about for a week. )

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