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Posted by: Dexter Roberts on June 06, 2008
It’s just before the upcoming fourth Strategic Economic Dialogue between the U.S. and China—this time happening June 17-18 in Annapolis, Maryland and bringing together Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and vice minister Wang Qishan. So the foreign ministry has organized a bunch of ministerial officials (including also from the ministry of commerce, the national development and reform commission, and the ministry of environmental protection) to meet a group of mainly American journalists. And this time it is over lunch in the often inaccessible Diaoyutai, the beautiful government compound of lakes and willow trees in west Beijing, so even more attractive a session to attend than usual.
I decide to ask about the rising resentment we’ve seen of late directed at foreign companies including American firms, over perceived slights to Chinese national pride. Sharon Stone got Dior in hot water after her unfortunate comments connecting the terrible Sichuan earthquake to Chinese bad karma that she suggested was due to Beijing’s treatment of Tibetans. But the ire extends way beyond one luxury brand.
There were the multinationals including McDonalds and Coca Cola and Motorola and Nokia criticized for supposedly not giving enough for earthquake relief, and earlier the calls for a boycott against Carrefour after Chinese netizens became convinced that one of the French company’s executives was a Dalai Lama supporter (Carrefour has denied that.) Finally, there was the Internet campaign attacking CNN (and others in the Western media) for perceived bias in reporting on the unrest in Tibet earlier this spring.
So is the ministry of commerce at all concerned about the growing anger directed at foreign investors who are often accused on the Internet of getting rich off Chinese, while at the same time insulting Chinese pride? Well, I didn’t quite get the answer I expected. Instead we heard what seemed to me to be yet another mini lecture on how the Western press should do a better job. Here’s how a director general in the commerce ministry began:
“This is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce.” ——Okay, not very satisfying, but it is certainly not the first time I’ve heard that one…
He continues: “On the other hand, I believe a society’s public uses the Internet to express their desires and own opinions. And this is a certain kind of public opinion. I believe that you journalists can have important influence on public opinions too.” —-Well, we certainly hope we have some influence, I think…
“As for the view of the American public on their trade and economic relationship with China, and the view of Chinese public in this field, as well as similar issues, perhaps you should discuss all of this more with your Chinese [media] colleagues.” —More discussion with Chinese reporters—sure, sounds like a good idea to me…
And now for the word of advice, one I’ve heard ad nauseam, but still can’t quite get used to: “And I’m afraid you [the media] should do more work aimed at leading public opinion in an impartial, objective and fair way.”
—-Ahhh…… that lecture once again. And I’m still surprised to hear it, every time. And no, never a trace of irony, even when it comes from an official here in China—remember this is a country that requires its own media turn to the careful Party-approved utterances of Xinhua, whenever reporting anything of major political or economic importance… Impartial? Objective? Fair? No—just reprint or broadcast whatever the government tells you…
So no thanks—I’ll take my journalistic cues from elsewhere. By the way, the food was great—and it was a lovely, sunny day to visit Diaoyutai…
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.