It seems that almost every week brings new signs of China's rise, with a commensurate increase in its international influence and soft power as well as in its economic, political and military clout.
Last week saw Beijing hosting an unprecedented international media summit, attended by most of the world's media empires, such as News Corp., The Associated Press, Reuters, the British Broadcasting Corp., the Turner Broadcasting System and Google.
The fact that major Western media companies flocked to attend a conference held in Beijing and hosted by Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, speaks volumes about the changes that have taken place in recent years.
It does not mean that the Western organizations have compromised their principles. In fact, a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the conference voiced the hope that "media organizations around the world will provide accurate, objective, impartial and fair coverage of the world's news events, and promote transparency and accountability of governments and public institutions."
The problems of the Chinese press were highlighted by the international organization Reporters Without Borders, which issued a statement to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1. "Reporters Without Borders would like to participate in this anniversary in its own way," it said. "The past 60 years have been difficult for journalists as the Maoist regime wanted to turn the media into nothing more than propaganda tools. Journalists and bloggers nowadays are no longer locked in a totalitarian grip, but the censorship has never stopped. The Communist Party continues to exercise direct control over the news agency Xinhua, newspapers such as People's Daily, and the national broadcaster CCTV."
The executives attending the World Media Summit were much more diplomatic in their presentations. Even so, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp., called on China to "compete in the marketplace of ideas" and to allow a more open media sector.
While the conference was held to discuss the future of the media, there was much interest in the situation of foreign journalists working in China. There has been some relaxation in conjunction with the Beijing Olympics last summer, but the situation is still far from ideal, with three journalists working for the Japanese news agency Kyodo being attacked in their hotel room by plainclothes men while covering a rehearsal for the 60th-anniversary celebrations.
President Hu Jintao, addressing the opening of the conference, pledged to protect the rights of international news organizations reporting in China. "We will continue to make government affairs public, enhance information distribution, safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign news organizations and reporters, and facilitate foreign media coverage of China in accordance with China's laws and regulations."
News coverage of China has exploded in recent years as its global role has expanded. Mr. Hu acknowledged that the foreign media had played an "important role" in telling the world about the changes in the country.
Beijing has become more sophisticated about how the media can help to convey Chinese influence around the world. It has announced plans to set up companies that will compete with the world's media giants. And the effort to project soft power is going on even in remote corners of the world. Only last month, state-owned CCTV began Russian-language broadcasts in Kyrgyzstan.
China's increasing exposure to the international media as well as its own growing media presence is a trend that simply reflects the country's rising importance. Hopefully, as time goes on, it will internalize the values of the global media rather than just see the media as a propaganda tool to serve the government's interests.
Frank Ching is the author of China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record.Report Typo/Error