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China Reform Monitor - No. 685

Olympic propaganda;
China's unique Internet boom

Edited by Ilan Berman
February 18, 2008

January 23:

China may have hired an international public relations firm to boost its image before the Beijing Olympics this summer, but the CPC will not be abandoning its more time-honored tactics anytime soon. With China’s international image set to take center stage, Chinese President Hu Jintao has implored a group of party leaders to “perform well the task of outward propaganda.” Taking the lead in the effort will be China’s Propaganda Department (or, as it is now named, Publicity Department); a body outranking any government ministry or communications office, with broad authority to “punish outlets, writers, filmmakers and journalists that defy its guidelines,” according to the Associated Press.

January 25:

When Britain’s Royal Yachting Association set up a weather station in China in preparation for this summer’s Beijing Olympics, it drew a harsh reaction from an unexpected source: China’s secret police. London’s Guardian reports that the Association’s weather station at Qindao, which tracks humidity, wind strength, and rainfall, was recently “confiscated.” The machine had apparently been made illegal under the nation’s updated “meteorological law” passed in 2007. “Foreign violators installed illegal monitoring equipments under the auspices of pre-match preparation,” an online government statement has maintained. But the UK insists that the station is necessary, since Chinese official data is unreliable, and has pointed out that only equipment from the UK, U.S., and Australia – coincidentally, three of the world’s best sailing teams – has been seized.

January 27:

For years, China has been under intense pressure from Washington to allow its undervalued currency, the yuan, to appreciate against the dollar. But now that the U.S. Congress has finally gotten its wish, some Americans are recoiling at the natural consequence of a weaker currency: a foreign spending spree on American assets. The Washington Post says China’s share of the incoming tide of capital remains relatively small – $9.7 billion last year – but the 2007 total was a shocking 146 times greater than that of the year before. The cheaper dollar is not the only thing drawing Chinese investors, however; America actually offers less expensive electricity and land than China’s booming cities. Finally, buying U.S. firms and opening up production centers in America brings Chinese firms closer to their most profligate customers and immunizes them from any tariffs they might face from a protectionist Congress.

January 28:

Between 1964 and 1996, China conducted some 45 nuclear tests at a remote site in Western China. Last year, the CPC decided the eight million veterans and family members who took part in those tests deserved some extra benefits, doling out more than $2 billion to those affected in 2007. Though the government has remained tight-lipped about possible long-term adverse effects, foreign journalists “have reported an increased incidence of cancers and other diseases in people near the test site,” reports the New York Times.

January 31:

China is on track to become the world’s most prolific user of the Internet in just a few months time. But, according to a report by the Economist, exactly how China has embraced the Internet may prove more revealing than how fast.

With Beijing’s notorious censorship laws, China’s Internet culture has evolved quite differently from its counterparts in the West. Most obviously, China’s Internet caters to the young – 70 percent of users are under the age of 30 – which means an enormous market for Internet gaming and social networking directed at the hundreds of millions Chinese youth who lack siblings. And although hard news is heavily restricted, gossip sites and sporting events have proven big draws, while pirated film, TV shows, and music downloads reign supreme.

Related Categories: Democracy & Governance; China; Public Diplomacy

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