- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

BEIJING — Chinese news reports linking the Virginia Tech massacre with American foreign policy, sexism and the war in Iraq have put China’s Foreign Ministry in an awkward position — defending press freedom in a nation where the press is considered an organ of the communist government.

“I do not see there is any mechanism or system that the government controls the press,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao recently told reporters asking about local reports on the deadliest gun rampage in U.S. history.

One of the more unusual news items in question came under the headline: “From campus killer to a look at international relations.”

The April 23 column in Shijie Xinwenbao, or World News Journal, asserted that the Virginia Tech gunman’s behavior was similar to “certain behavior popular in international relations implicating others who are related to the one who is guilty.”

China Youth Daily, published by the Communist Youth League, called on the United States to reflect on the popularity of “violent social culture” and “competition in America as law of the jungle.”

The author of that article, also published April 23, appeared to connect the Virginia Tech tragedy to the Iraq war by writing: “In some international views, the tragedy is relevant to the increasingly popular idea that armed forces dominate U.S. foreign policy.”

On his English language “Dialog” show, which has a format similar to “Larry King Live” and is beamed by satellite all over the world, Yang Rui interviewed a Korean student at Cornell University on April 24.

Mr. Yang made his point by quoting an opinion about the campus shooter’s sister, who works for the U.S. government, and asking if the sister’s position reflected a “dual attitude in white society toward Asians by gender,” one where “women are seen as desirable and compliant and admirable, while the Asian male is to be suppressed at all costs.”

In fairness, much of the mainstream Chinese press refrained from using the April 16 tragedy as a vehicle to criticize the United States.

And China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to offer condolences after a Korean student at Virginia Tech, Seung-hui Cho, killed 32 persons before killing himself.

Almost immediately after the shooting, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing contacted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to offer consolations to the United States and to families of the victims.

A few days later, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mr. Liu found himself on the hot seat at the weekly briefing for foreign correspondents.

Early reports indicated the shooter was Chinese. Now that it was clear the gunman was Korean, was China still offering its condolences?

The foreign minister’s call to Miss Rice demonstrated “good wishes and affection toward the United States government and people,” Mr. Liu replied.

He added: “We condemn this unbridled atrocity against the innocent.”

Mr. Liu had a tougher time when asked whether the subsequent Chinese news reports reflected China’s official position on the shooting.

Even under the best of circumstances, China’s policy of briefing foreign journalists is problematic because its diplomats seldom provide direct answers to difficult questions.

Despite the press’ direct links to the Communist Party and government bureaucracies, Mr. Liu stated the views represented those of “individuals and organizations,” not the entire country.

China’s press policy, he said, “gives full play to publicity and supervision toward the work of the government,” as well as shouldered “due social obligations.”

Mr. Liu said he hoped “relevant press organs” promote the country’s “economic and social development, and cultural advancement.”

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