Tom Plate – UCLA Media Center

>LOS ANGELES — The relationship between the United States and China is
>the single most important bilateral entanglement in global politics
>today. Is there really any argument here? So it bears repeating ≠ in
>fact, urgently — that the Peoples Republic of China is barking up
>exactly the wrong sort of tree in foolishly crossing swords with The New
>York Times.
>This prestigious daily newspaper is an American mass-media leader. On the
>mainland of China, there is absolutely no equivalent. The paper is more
>important ≠ by far– than the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
>Committee. It is like the South China Morning Post, the excellently
>feisty Asian English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong, times one
>hundred. No one U.S. multinational super-corporation is as influential
>as the daily put out by the boys and girls on West 43rd St. in Manhattan.
>Let me suggest, without being too silly, that this longstanding New York
>daily possesses the opinion-making capability of a multi-megaton nuclear
>bomb. For example, our TV networks in part take their news cues from its
>front page — as do many other newspapers the width and breadth of
>America. Should Times editors decide to drop all their destructive power
>–rightly or wrongly ≠ on China, the effect would be not at all what
>Beijing would want. So why mess with them if you can avoid it?
>But China, which could have avoided this problem altogether, instead
>decided to mess with The Times anew. To make a technically and
>spiritually unedifying long story short, mainland authorities have
>recharged a former Beijing-based researcher from The New York Times for
>offenses that they had just recently dropped.
>The researcher in question, Zhao Yan, remains in a Chinese prison. The
>original charge, dropped and restated, claimed theft of state secrets in
>connection with a Times story revealing a power struggle in the PRC
>elite. For its part, the newspaper has stated for the record that its
>leadership-struggle story was not a product of Zhao Yans work in Beijing.
>That admission was large-spirited of the newspaper (which has been trying
>to get Yan from behind bars) but it should have been unnecessary: If
>Chinas authorities ≠ and its their decision to do so, after all — are
>prepared to permit The Times to report stories from the mainland, they
>need to accept, especially in this age of information-globalization, that
>not every story that appears in the paper will, be enormously wonderful,
>appealing and pro-China (whatever this might mean).
>How to explain Chinas unwise conduct? Heres one thought: As backdrop,
>rumor has it that China President Hu Jintao was irritated with the U.S.
>handling of his recent official visit to Washington and thus vengeful.
>Lets not go into the well-reported details but from his perspective (and
>from almost everyone elses) he has the right to sulk. But while humanly
>understandable, sulking for any extended period of time is
>internationally ill-advised.
>With almost scientific precision, China, which has many problems, needs
>to maximize its national interests in every single respect and
>opportunity. Indulging in the cult of the sulk≠ if that is what is
>happening in this case ≠ is no way for the adult leader of China to behave.
>Okay — its hard to explain to PRC friends why The New York Times is so
>important. Everyone knows it is powerful, even though everyone wishes it
>would demonstrate a lot more humility. But it doesnt, and it never will.
>In the U.S., therefore, everyone knows, for all its faults, The New York
>Times is a power to be reckoned with. This is the ways things are today.
>Is this column nothing more than a kind of special plea by one journalist
>not in trouble for another journalist now in trouble? On one level,
>perhaps; but this case is special. The New York Times has been
>historically reluctant to take up individual cases for fear of being
>accused of special-interest pleading. To its credit, this is not such a
>case. A major part of The Times argument for the release of Zhao Yan has
>less to do with concern for the individual (though this is sincere) than
>with the larger issue.
>You see, Americas leading newspaper would prefer to deal with China
>wholly objectively and seriously. But when China make issues like Zhao
>Yan so personal and ugly, its leaders look to be ones who sulk, and are,
>at the end of the day, the real losers, not The New York Times, as
>arrogant as the latter can be, too.
>China needs to always show to the world its peaceful rise side, not its
>testy old Mao kindergarten-brat side: because, before too long, this is
>the side the entire American news media will start to focus on and report
>to the American people about. This is not something China needs. Zhao
>Yan is a much, much hotter potato than Beijing realizes.
>UCLA Prof. Tom Plate is a member of the Pacific Council on International
>Relations and founder of the UCLA Media Center. © 2006, Tom Plate.

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