Saturday, 7 December 2013

Forcing the Issue

American VP Joe Biden had tough words for Chinese President Xi Jinping
Earlier this week UK Prime Minister David Cameron was meek and compliant on his trip to China. He thought the submissive tactic would win him brownie points, but instead he was ridiculed for kowtowing to Beijing.

Then a few days later came American Vice-President Joe Biden who voiced his displeasure of the prospect of 24 journalists working for Bloomberg and the New York Times not having their China visas renewed in the next few weeks and may have to leave the country. That could mean the end of their on-the-ground reporting in China.

In a speech to an American business group (where he was preaching to the converted), Biden said, "Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely and are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences."

He also encouraged young Chinese visiting the US to "challenge the government, challenge your teachers, challenge religious leaders".

For the deputy leader of the most powerful nation on earth to make these statements shows confidence despite the US's shortcomings.

At a meeting on Thursday with Beijing-based journalists for Bloomberg and the New York Times, Biden said he warned Chinese leaders over dinner that there would be serious consequences, especially from Congress if China forced out the journalists.

However, he added that Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared unmoved, saying the authorities would treat them according to Chinese law. But right now those processing their visa renewals are not following Chinese law...

It's quite obvious this latest development is retaliation against the two news outlets for digging through public records to piece together what they believe are pretty accurate financial pictures of both then Premier Wen Jiabao's and Xi's families.

Their series of stories were considered award-winning pieces of journalism outside of China, but not for Beijing, who considers delving into the private lives of its senior leaders as taboo.

After Bloomberg's explosive story about Xi's family seemingly benefiting from his political position, state-owned enterprises in the financial industry were instructed not to purchase Bloomberg terminals for the latest financial information.

This hit the company hard, its sales plummeted and have not recovered at all. One can imagine the Chinese firms also losing out on this precious timely financial information as well.

Bloomberg's chief editor Matthew Winkler is also currently caught in a tough situation, accused of not publishing another investigative piece for fear of the China reporters being expelled. He also unfortunately compared the Chinese Communist Party to the Nazis...

The fallout from this ongoing scandal is that one of Bloomberg's most seasoned China journalists Mike Forsythe has left the company.

Why is this all so important?

We, the west need people on the ground to tell us what is really going on in China. Even being in Hong Kong is not enough to feel the subtle shifts that happen politically, economically and socially.

By having this information we can make better business and political decisions; it also shapes our perception of the country by having these China journalists documenting every development there.

So if two dozen reporters are really forced to leave China by the end of the year, that's 24 less experts helping us discern what is really going on in the Middle Kingdom. And that's where miscommunication and misperceptions begin.

Beijing's seemingly retaliatory moves are not doing it any favours either. But it seems to think soft power is not the way to go when it comes to controlling foreign media's coverage of China.

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