Back off Andrea Yu: view from China
Poor Andrea Hodgkinson. Let the record show, your honour, that her crimes consist of asking questions at a press conference under an assumed name; of being Australian; and of responding too honestly to her various interviewers.
The first of those heinous deeds has already been committed by this correspondent. The second as well, actually. The last will hopefully never arise — that is the point of a pseudonym. It may not be why she chose to present herself as Andrea — or Andi — Yu, but it is her right to do so.
For those of you who don’t work in the media and have yet to be exposed to this latest round of lint carefully extracted from navels, Andrea Yu is the biggest thing to have come out of the just-concluded Communist Party of China’s 18th National Congress.
Held about every five years, the Congress is a preordained pantomime that brings the internet and much traffic to a halt as China’s new leaders are sworn in. They are selected rather than elected, months and months before the Congress itself — the phrase “leader-in-waiting“ has marched like a weary herald before the name of new President Xi Jinping for most of this year, and will continue to do so until March 2013 when he officially takes power.
This air of predetermination sends newspaper editors and journalists wishing and hoping and praying for a surprise, but China dispensed with most of the dramatics long before the Congress. Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing Party chief who was earmarked for power before a spectacular fall from grace, has turned into a uniquely Chinese bogeyman. “You heard of the big guy called Bo?” asks one local, covering her mouth with a scarf in case of watching eyes or cameras. “Cause too much trouble, and you might meet him.”
The Congress was at least noteworthy for cementing the ascendancy of the princelings, the children of influential Chinese officials who have been weaned on power and retained their taste for it. Xi, for example, is the son of a revolutionary leader and economic reformer, and he has managed the rare feat of simultaneously being chosen to lead the Communist party and the country’s military.
And while there have been calls for increased political and economic openness, particularly from China’s increasingly influential (and knowledgeable) base of social media users, the Congress hasn’t really changed very much about the lives of the vast majority of China’s populace.
Unfortunately, this makes for equally unexciting coverage. Which is where our new friend Andrea comes in.
In the Great Hall of the People, which squats elegantly at the western edge of Tiananmen Square, saying that it is uncommon for foreign journalists to feature heavily at press conferences is a bit like saying that it is unusual for snow to feature prominently in the Sahara. Yu was given four questions at at least two press conferences with party officials — a briefing that included officials from the National Development and Reform Commission, and a news conference with Jiang Weixin, minister and secretary of the CPC Leadership Group of the Ministry of Housing And Urban-Rural Development. Foreign eyebrows were jolted skywards, and the googling began.
Sample question from Yu: “Please tell us what policies and plans the Chinese government will be implementing in cooperation with Australia.”
Yu said she was representing Global CAMG Media International. Some digging from the ABC revealed that the company is in fact Beijing-owned, and her soft questions were essentially a way for China to control the English-language coverage of the event.
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