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Inside China: Eroding press freedom

- - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A routine Taiwanese legislative hearing on Chinese government advertising activities in Taiwan revealed alarming evidence that the communist government paid some of Taiwan's leading newspapers to produce pro-mainland news coverage.

A legislator from Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party at the hearing on regulatory compliance played an audio recording of a secretly picked up conversation between the propaganda bureau chief of China's Xiamen city government in Fujian province, across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait from the island, and a Taiwanese reporter posing as a non-media representative.

In the recording, the reporter asked the propaganda chief whether Xiamen paid Taiwanese newspapers for news coverage.

The official not only said "yes" but also explained how it was done.

Chen Xianghua, the propaganda chief, stated, according to a transcript of the recording, that the Xiamen government and some of Taiwan's newspapers signed contracts to buy news coverage. The papers were paid through wire transfers from the Xiamen government after invoices and receipts were sent to Xiamen officials.

China Times, an influential Taiwanese newspaper owned by an overtly pro-China tycoon, Cai Yanming, was identified as an egregious example of the "paid news coverage."

At issue was China Times' coverage of a recent five-day visit to the island democracy by the governor of Fujian province, where the Chinese People's Liberation Army has deployed a large concentration of missile and other military forces ready to attack Taiwan.

While most newspapers' coverage was balanced in reporting the governor's visit, China Times' reports poured on unusually lavish praise and put a positive spin on the event.

In the secretly recorded conversation, China Times was mentioned specifically as having received payments of Chinese money in exchange for positive news coverage.

The incumbent KMT government announced it would investigate China Times for possible regulatory violations.

Taiwan is not the only state targeted by Chinese influence-peddling.

Lianhe Zaobao, or the United Morning News, Singapore's largest Chinese-language newspaper, which is influential among international Chinese media, for many years operated closely with the Communist Party chief Bo Xilai in the Chinese megacity of Chongqing. The arrangement reportedly called for the Chongqing government to pay large amounts of money to the paper for printing favorable news about Chongqing's developments under the flamboyant Mr. Bo.

In fact, the Singapore newspaper even had a fixed page called the Chongqing Channel to promote Chongqing. Since 2006, the paper was paid by Mr. Bo, who was ousted this month amid an emerging power struggle in Beijing, for providing "services in advertisement and consultation," reportedly in the tens of millions of dollars.

In the United States, the Chinese government paid The Washington Post to publish a regular news supplement called China Watch that is inserted into the print edition of the paper. The contents of China Watch are produced mostly by China's government-run propaganda outlet China Daily.

Even though the insert carries the words "A Paid Supplement to The Washington Post," the venerable newspaper's logo appears next to China Watch, and the insert is hosted by The Washington Post's Web server.

CHINA-PHILIPPINES STANDOFF

A tense high-seas standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships has gripped the two Asian nations since April 10, when 12 Chinese fishing ships were caught by a Philippine naval ship in an ocean area near Scarborough Shoals in the South China Sea.

Both the Philippines and China claim sovereign rights over the area. While the Philippine naval ship tried to apprehend a crew from the Chinese fishing fleet, two Chinese-government-run maritime surveillance ships, Haijian 84 and Haijian 75, rushed into the fight to stop the Philippine vessel, creating a standoff that continues.

A week later, China dispatched its largest and most advanced "fishery administrative ship," Yuzheng 310, to reinforce the Chinese fleet, further escalating tensions.

Since the beginning of the standoff, China's war cries against the Philippines have saturated leading government-run Internet forums. Various high-ranking Chinese uniformed officers and military analysts have urged waging war to punish "the little country," the Philippines.

The Philippine government remains adamant in claiming its sovereignty over the area and demands that Chinese ships go home.

But China blinked on Tuesday by recalling two of the three largest government ships from the area of the Scarborough Shoals as some behind-the-door diplomatic negotiations appeared to be in the works.

The Manila government responded by sending two more naval ships to the area to beef up its posture in the faceoff, causing China to explode yet again with protests and condemnation.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has vowed to take the issue to an international arbitration agency, a move China opposes.

Miles Yu's columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.