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Thursday, September 29, 2005

CHINA – Part II

By John L. Valentine
Senate President
District 14

Karen and I are back in the U.S. now, recovering from jet lag and thinking about our stay in the Middle Kingdom. Many of the blessings we take for granted here at home are real challenges in Beijing. A free press is one example.

Our delegation stayed in an International Hotel in Beijing. The “international” designation was significant because it meant that we could watch cable news programs, such as CNN and the BBC, which would otherwise be blocked. The Chinese public is not permitted to receive these broadcasts.

When we asked about this situation we were told that the media in China is "competitive." Upon further inquiry it appears that the media is no longer totally controlled by the Communist Party, even though there is ample evidence of censorship. Censorship comes in terms of controlling content and controlling who is allowed to release the news. We learned of journalists who were fined and jailed for being incorrect in their treatment of Party concerns.

Something published in the Beijing News (as quoted in China Daily - the national English language paper) caught my eye:
Some local officials have set up a special organ to control the media’s negative coverage of their regions and departments in recent years. To reduce the coverage alleged to compromise their achievements or image, they usually refuse interviews demanded by the media and interfere with the media's operations through any means available . . . ."
I hope those words don’t sound familiar here … or at least not descriptive of the Utah Senate. However, we should be aware that human nature, and the dynamics of power, are fairly universal. In our case, we are fortunate to have cultural, political and legal protections such as the First Amendment and Utah’s constitutional Declaration of Rights.

The news media doesn’t get it right 100 percent of the time, but they do provide a service that is vital to good government.

You can find another interesting dynamic in the streets of large cities in China. Pirate copies of American CDs and DVDs are everywhere – mostly titles that are outlawed in the state-sanctioned markets. It’s illegal to purchase most of these movies, or watch them in theaters, yet these forbidden materials represent 85% of all the DVDs and CDs in circulation in China, according to a source in the Asia-Pacific Motion Picture Association of America.

As I mentioned in my last blog, many young people of China, especially in the larger cites are achieving a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the internet. Peking University is sometimes called the "Harvard of the East" (sorry Yale). Senior high school students are required to take the National Uniform State College Entrance Exam; the top scores are invited to study in Peking. Political Science and Diplomacy is the most popular course of study.

We had the opportunity to talk with some of these students. They were acutely conscious of their dependence on the internet for access to information about the world. You can imagine they were very concerned when vital information sites were blocked by the central government. It was apparent that they were sometimes skeptical of what they saw in the official version of the news and frustrated at their inability to find full and complete information.

When asked about the war in Iraq, they called it "very confused." They observed that the situation in Iraq "needed a solution. Terrorism is everyone’s problem." They were also concerned that their personal E-mails were being intercepted and read by government officials.

My general impression is that there is more liberty in the People's Republic of China now than there has been in a long time, but they are miles from having a vibrant living democracy to match and mitigate their economic growth.

China is a truly beautiful country, with a long history that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I was honored by their hospitality and look forward to increased friendship between the people of both of our nations.

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