China Reacts to Burma’s Nascent Media Reform

The Burmese media covers Aung San Suu Kyi’s election campaign on April 1. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The end to pre-publication censorship in Burma has generally been welcomed by Chinese journalists, but has also led China’s leading right-wing daily to publish an ambiguous editorial stating that Naypyidaw should not serve as Beijing’s role model.

“China should follow the trend of the times and look at the practical situation of the nation,” read an opinion piece in Tuesday’s the Global Times. “Rather than being perplexed and even letting backwater countries like Myanmar and Vietnam become our idols.”

“As for Myanmar, its burgeoning reforms are still very uncertain, and the effectiveness of various reform measures remains to be verified,” the editorial cautioned. “All of these are experimental, and boldness is actually the most prominent characteristic of Myanmar’s reform.”

The paper’s editorials, while anonymous, are generally understood to be written by its editor-in-chief Hu Xijin. “China has inspired its neighbors through reform and opening, now their reforms can inspire and touch China,” he wrote on his micro-blog on Tuesday.

“If Chinese media opened up, the Global Times would have to close shop,” renowned Beijing-based contemporary Chinese history scholar Lei Yi quipped while commenting on the editorial.

The government mouthpiece People’s Daily was more positive in its report quoting an unnamed Burmese journalist as saying that Monday was a “great day” for the domestic media. The article written by its Bangkok correspondent Sun Guangyong noted that sensitive issues such as the ethnic conflicts are still taboo.

“A wide range of interests—the government, the military, ethnic minorities and the international community—will be affected by media freedom,” Yin Hongwei, a Kunming-based journalist, told The Irrawaddy. In the new environment, “China’s interests are bound to trigger new enmities.”

Yin, who has covered Burmese news from Yunnan Province for many years, said he expected the Burmese media to enter “a period of turmoil” in which the law should eventually delineate the limits of reporting.

Hu Shuli, the editor-in-chief of the business news weekly Caixin, cautioned that the opening of Burmese media freedom is limited. “The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division still continues to exist, and it continues to hold the power to stop publications and revoke publication permits,” Hu wrote on her microblog on Tuesday. She became an icon of challenging censorship in China since founding the investigative business magazine Caijing in 1998.

“The road towards a free press is by no means smooth,” an opinion piece on the Caijing website read on Tuesday. “But, at least, Burma has taken a first step.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists listed Burma as the seventh most censored country in the world in May with China as runner-up, calling the world’s second-largest economy “a model for censorship regimes elsewhere.”

On Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong issued a rare joint statement urging mainland Chinese authorities to “ensure that journalists are protected from violence and intimidation.”

The Chinese censorship system also shows the perils of more sophisticated forms of restricting the freedom to report sensitive issues, said Ying Zhu, the author of Two Billion Eyes: the Story of China Central Television.

“Besides the potential political consequences of ideologically sensitive reporting,” she told The Irrawaddy, “Chinese journalists are also vulnerable to libel suits, adding another measure of caution to journalists’ self-censorship impulse.”

“I can certainly foresee the sort of intricate dance Burmese journalists must perform as they test their boundaries of what is permissible by the authorities,” said the US-based Chinese media expert.

“‘I am so used to stopping when I still have more to say,’” she recalls a Chinese national television host telling her. “The kind of boundary-testing self-censorship has become the norm among Chinese media professionals as they try to balance the will of the party, the market and their professional instincts,” added Ying.

Shi Yonggang, chief editor of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Weekly, said on his microblog that Burma’s censors realized that a government’s role is to promote the media rather than control it. “This neighbor of ours is moving so fast and they are not waiting for us to catch up.”

9 Responses to China Reacts to Burma’s Nascent Media Reform

  1. The Union of Myanmar is rising up again. It needs more to do. Thein Sein still needs to bring his brothers and sister from ethnic groups to the table to talk the must and necessary Peace Talk to make the whole Union stand firm for the long run.

  2. After decades of abusing human rights, China’s tyranny
    continues uninhibited. Does no-one dare offend the economic
    superpower? In light of the recent violence between Tibetan
    protestors and the Chinese Government, the condemnation of
    China’s appalling human rights history has been renewed by
    politicians, the media and the public alike. Unfortunately,
    these mere words of opposition have no more impact than a
    slap on the wrist.
    China’s mistreatment of Tibet is no revelation. Since the
    Communist Party seized power in 1949, the Government has
    crushed the freedom and rights of not only Tibet, but its own
    people. Despite President Hu Jintao’s claims of ‘peaceful unification’,
    China’s disturbing history tells a different story of
    communist dictatorship.
    In 1950, China sent 40,000 troops to invade and conquer
    the nation of Tibet in an unprovoked attack on independence.
    When the Tibetans rallied for their freedom, the Chinese Army
    massacred 87,000 people, including women and children.
    Further demonstrations in 1988 and earlier this year were
    violently suppressed, destroying the right to protest that is
    taken for granted in our part of the world. Even with the
    current media attention, armed police continue to beat and
    arrest monks for peaceful demonstrations.
    Amnesty International reports that since the invasion,
    430,000 Tibetans have been killed by Chinese forces and
    260,000 Tibetans have died in labour camps or prisons.

  3. HaHa,New York times Chinese edition starts,remind me of what PRC’s running dog/super rich man Rupert Murdoch who used to say,Internet is the death of dictators,but sold his soul to be very rich.
    Rupert Murdoch,time is out,hope you see the light soon.

  4. If it is a true ‘path to democracy’ as the Parliament is touting and would have the world believe, then all this should not be an issue. It is still all about control and greed, for a few, and not people at all.

    What does China’s views even matter? Burma is not owned or controlled by China, even though China backed the regime to head it that way, and anyway China has its own massively primitive problems, such as tragic lack of human rights internally, partnered with massive controls, like some old world Russian gulag. Like Putin’s alpha-male dinosaur actions this week, China’s ongoing travesty is still backwardly knee-jerking with the tragic and continuing numbers of arrests and deaths (and utterly shocking situation of unspeakable dimensions, since 1949-59) in occupied Tibet, a situation the whole world finds utterly sickening, deeply appalling. Beating monks to death for having holy pictures? Desperate self-immolations! Sickening propaganda! Barbarians!

    The numbers of deaths in Tibet, Terry Evans, is much higher. And this week more.

    A world controlled by China would be unspeakable. Ai Weiwei is correct. Everyone should be living without fear in our modern world, and the State and its princelings have long been out of control. Greed and fear rules the airwaves, as democracies that should know better lose the plot, foolishly weakening themselves. Media control by the state… what Cold War is still rocking and rolling there? Communism failed dismally: it lost its way because people no longer mattered – and China has tragically lost its heart.

    Burma needs to be free of all brutality and control by ignorance. It still has heart, and people who want their freedom. Its people just want to get on with rebuilding their schools and hospitals. Are you listening, China, and the uncomfortable ‘parliamentarians’ who used so recently (and some still) wear hated, loathed uniforms?

  5. Chinese in their arrogance, always seem to be misjudging Southeast Asian countries in its own backyard so the Chinese media is trying to find the “correct party line” for reporting about the refreshing (albeit a bit chaotic) reforms that are happening in Burma. China seems to be unsure of how to deal with ASEAN countries, in general (South China Seas etc.) It is causing Communist China more headaches than was expected. China is quickly losing “client states” in the region. Well there is still North Korea and Iran (China’s new bff?)

  6. China may have more money. Who care? We the Myanmarese have found our human rights which we lost for 50 years. If I were to chose, I would choose human rights above money. The Chinese are still trying to find what they have lost since 1949. It’s okay. We the Myanmarese can help if you want.

  7. China has no right to interfere or even comments on our country democratic reforms.

  8. A Burmese Freedom Fighter

    The reform process in Burma is gradually coming back on its path, and has received a notice in China and else where, which is a good sign and hope that it doesn’t become corrosive in the unsettled Burma ethnic issues.

    The wind of change in Burma in its progress in its freedom of press doesn’t come through a free ride, but the Burmese journalists’ hard works and vociferous critic of censorship board of Burma’s harsh penalty against 2 journals.

    The price of freedom in Burma is still quite high, to make it more affordable depends on the commitments of all Burmese citizens in their awareness of what reforms means and what it is in for Burmese people and a country as a whole.

    Don’t be perplexed about what the needs are in the current reform process of U Thein Sein’s Administration, and be well prepared and ready at all time for the next round of push to the limit of moving Burma forward with more freedom of speech.

    A Burmese Freedom Fighter

  9. A perplexing term was used in this article: “China’s leading right-wing daily”. When the Chinese government calls itself Communist but is more rightwing than most Western governments in economic, social and cultural issues, what does it mean to be “rightwing” in the mainland Chinese context? To be pro-govt or anti-govt? To oppose the government because it’s “communist” or to support its policies because it’s de facto “rightwing”?

    I’m not just being sarcastic, I truly wonder about this.

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