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Thursday, July 9, 2009

China tries new openness

Related story to an earlier post on the riots in Xinjiang. And...China learns fast. That's really the true 'threat' of rising China isn't it? Problem is many of us still hold an aged, if not 'medieval' impression that China's a lumbering authority. But that much is false. What we have is a very sophisticated, determined and perceptive leadership that maneuvers the countries in a fashion that few can predict.


China tries new openness
The Straits Times July 9 2009

BEIJING - WHEN riots broke out in the restive west this week, China took a different tack with foreign journalists: Instead of being barred, reporters were invited on an official tour of Xinjiang's capital.

The approach, a stark reversal from last year's handling of Tibetan unrest, suggests Chinese authorities have learned that providing access to information means they can get their own message out, experts said.

'They are getting more sophisticated in how they're handling foreign and domestic media coverage of a crisis. It used to be in a time of major crisis, you get a blackout... Now the approach is to get the government's viewpoint out there,' said Ms Rebecca MacKinnon, a journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong.

The State Council Information Office, the government's main public relations arm, extended their highly unusual invitation to the foreign media on Monday, just one day after the worst ethnic violence in decades left 156 dead and 1,100 injured in the regional capital of Urumqi.

Their goal? 'To help foreign media to do mor objective, fair and friendly reports,' the agency said in a statement.

Journalists from 60 different foreign media organisations travelled to Urumqi on Monday. They were taken to the largest hotel in town where the government had set up a media center. Special reporting passes were issued and press conferences were arranged.

The hotel was the only place in town where Internet service was not cut, which helped ensure that reporters stayed close.

Still, not everything stayed within the government's control. On Tuesday, as reporters were escorted around town to see the damage from Sunday's rioting, a group of some 200 Uighur women, wailing and shouting, appeared to protest the arrests of their husbands and sons in the ensuing crackdown.

For the government guides, who tried to herd reporters on buses as TV cameras rolled, it was a totally unscripted moment. -- AP