According to a recent news item, as reported in the Asia Times, in preparation for the Olympic Games in 2008, the Chinese government has relaxed its grip on foreign reporters in China. Time can only tell whether or not this will lead to freer reportage in practice. It is one thing for the central government to issue such a proclamation, and another for officials on the local level to honor it. A reporter for the BBC News writes that he took advantage of the new rules to travel freely to the town of Yongzhou in Hunan Province, where a protest involving around 20,000 people broke out last week after the local bus company hiked up its prices. After snooping around, the reporter was taken into custody by local police and told that he had no business asking questions. When he replied that the central government had issued new rules about foreign journalists in China, they responded that that only pertained to the Olympics. He was shown the door and didn't get to finish his report on the protest. This is the likely scenario for big-noses who try to take advantage of the "new rules."
Apparently, the Hu Jintao government issued these rules partly to shake up China and make it easier to report on official corruption. One wonders however what will happen when the journalists turn to Hu's own camp. It is difficult to imagine that the Hu clique is not just as caught up in the frenzy as everyone else. This then leads one to wonder if foreign journalists are not simply the pawns in an ongoing chess match (or to use a better metaphor, a Go tournament) between rival factions. One thinks back to the controversy over the "Tiananmen Papers" when they were published in translation back in 2001. Was this "leak" part of a ploy to use the Western media to attack the Deng camp? Was it a tactic by enemies of Li Peng? Nobody knows for sure. The point is that Western journalists will never be truly "free" to report on China, as long as the current regime is in power. Instead, no matter how honest their intentions, their pens will always be bent to the whims and wills of the people in power. Struggle on, brave soldiers. It's a long, hard road.