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Press Freedom Report, China A “Festering” Black Hole When It Comes To Media

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Copies of Reporters Without Borders' annual World Press Freedom Index sit on a table at Agence France-Presse headquarters in Paris, April 26, 2017. RFA

China is a “festering” black hole when it comes to freedom of the press, a Paris-based media watchdog said in a recent report.

China fell one place lower on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual Index of Press Freedom, the group said, “because of the monopoly of power exercised by [its] president Xi Jinping.”

Citing Xi’s amendment of China’s constitution to enable him to serve a second, indefinite term in office, RSF said that the ruling elite suppress all debate in the country’s state-run media, “while cracking down relentlessly on citizen journalists who try to make a dissenting voice heard.”

“China’s anti-democratic model, based on Orwellian high-tech information surveillance and manipulation, is all the more alarming because Beijing is now promoting its adoption internationally,” RSF warned.

Not happy with obstructing the work of journalists within its borders, China is now trying to establish a “new world media order,” the report said.

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“If [journalists] pursue certain stories, such as anything to do with the military, or the assets of the family members of Chinese leaders, offshore companies and so on, then they could get you on any pretext,” he said. VOA
“The Chinese system of total news control is increasingly serving as a model for other anti-democratic regimes,” it said.

More controls in recent years

Chinese media commentator Jin Zhongbing agreed with the report’s findings.

“There is a general sense that there are more [controls] in recent years, including legislation and various kinds of regulations, than there were before,” Jin said. “Those of us who work in the media often find that our stories don’t get published, because they touch on certain sensitive words.”

“It feels as if the definition of what is sensitive is getting broader and broader,” he said. “The space left by these policies is getting smaller and smaller, so it’s a worrying situation.”

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said that even journalists working in or traveling to Hong Kong could be at risk of arrest for alleged infractions of Chinese law, under a proposed amendment to the city’s extradition law allowing the rendition of “suspected criminals” to mainland China at Beijing’s request.

“It used to be fine once you had gotten across the border into Hong Kong, but now, people will start to wonder whether they should take on certain types of reporting,” Lui said.

“If [journalists] pursue certain stories, such as anything to do with the military, or the assets of the family members of Chinese leaders, offshore companies and so on, then they could get you on any pretext,” he said.

“I think this is going to make some journalists a bit less bold about uncovering information in mainland China,” Lui said. “Ultimately, it will have an impact on the media’s function in monitoring those in power, and the public’s right to know.”

“It will mean that those in power have a totally free hand,” he said.

An extension of the CCP

President Xi has insisted that the state media are an extension of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sharing its aims and political goals, and act as its mouthpiece.

Last September, the U.S. Justice Department demanded that China’s official Xinhua News Agency and state-owned international broadcaster CGTN register as foreign agents.

Xinhua News Agency is directly controlled by the CCP and answers to the country’s cabinet, the State Council, while CGTN is the English-language network of Beijing-based state broadcaster CCTV, under the direct control of the party’s Central Propaganda Department.

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“The Chinese system of total news control is increasingly serving as a model for other anti-democratic regimes,” it said. Pixabay

Media regulators have banned the country’s internet portals like Tencent and Sina from conducting any independent journalism of their own, requiring them to post syndicated content from organizations on the CCP’s approved state media whitelist.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) found in a recent survey of its members in January that more than half thought conditions had deteriorated in 2018, and surveillance and official retaliation had become the hallmarks of reporting from China.

Nearly half of the respondents said they were followed or “were aware that a hotel room was entered without permission.” Ninety-one percent said they were concerned about the security of their phones, while 22 percent were aware authorities tracked them using public surveillance systems.

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Overall, 55 percent of respondents said they believed conditions deteriorated in 2018.

Official harassment or retaliation also rendered Chinese nationals working for foreign news organizations vulnerable, the report found, with 37 percent of 91 respondents reporting that their Chinese colleagues were pressured, harassed, or intimidated. (RFA)

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Amid Intensifying US China Trade Dispute, Indian Exporters Eye Gains

Orient Craft’s new unit in Jharkhand, one of India’s least developed states, will employ about eight thousand workers

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US, China, Trade Dispute, Indian Exporters
Orient Craft, one of India's largest apparel exporters, says it could benefit from increased business as the US-China trade war intensifies. This building in Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi houses its office and one of its garment units. VOA

As work on establishing a massive garment-manufacturing unit by one of India’s leading apparel exporters enters the final stages, the company is optimistic about keeping the machines humming. Slated to begin production in August, Orient Craft’s new unit in Jharkhand, one of India’s least developed states, will employ about eight thousand workers.

Inquiries from buyers in the United States, its biggest market, have increased in recent months as a trade dispute with China intensifies, according to A.K. Jain, who heads the Commercial department at Orient Craft. That is why he is upbeat about generating new business. “This is an unbelievable blessing in disguise,” he says. “It will give us an edge.”

Exporters in India are reaping the benefits of the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies as business with both countries jumps, according to Ajai Sahai, who heads the Federation of Indian Export Organizations.

“While overall exports have gone up by nine percent, exports to the U.S. have gone up by 13 percent and to China by 32 percent,” he says. And as the confrontation escalated last week after the two countries failed to reach a deal, his optimism increased. “Since the tariff hike is now substantial from 10 to 25 percent we feel we will have more advantage in market access.”

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A slowdown in the Indian economy is being attributed to a drop in consumption by an affluent middle class. VOA

India is among a handful of countries set to benefit from the U.S.-China trade dispute, a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development stated in February. “The saying ‘it’s good to fish in troubled waters’ could apply to some bystander nations,” the report said, pointing out that most of the Chinese exports subject to U.S. tariffs will be captured by firms in third countries.

While China has opened its doors wider to a range of agricultural products from India such as rice and sugar, exports to the United States have increased in areas such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, jewelry, auto components and apparel.

“In various products we were losing out to China with a very narrow margin. With the hike, we are able to offset that,” says Sahai. “That is why the tariff war has presented us an opportunity to enter markets in the U.S. in some areas we were hardly penetrating.”

But even as Indian exports benefit, trade experts warn that clouds are also gathering over New Delhi’s trade relationship with Washington. In recent months, U.S. President Donald Trump has slammed Indian duties on some U.S. goods, saying that India is not providing “equitable and reasonable access” to its markets.

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Economists also warn that an eventual slowdown in global trade due to the U.S.-China trade spat will hit all countries including India, which is already staring at an economic slowdown

Growth in the world’s fastest growing major economy flagged to 6.6 percent in the last quarter of 2018 – it’s lowest in more than a year. It is not expected to fare much better this year.

The slump is blamed on slackening domestic consumption, which powers the Indian economy. Unlike East Asian countries, which have raced ahead on the back of exports, growth momentum in India is largely based on an affluent middle class snapping up goods such as cars, refrigerators, air conditioners and other consumer goods.

But there are concerns as automobile sales, the barometer of consumption, plunged to the lowest in nearly eight years in recent months.

US, China, Trade Dispute, Indian Exporters
Like other carmakers, the Hyundai showroom in Gurgaon has witnessed a decline in sales of cars in recent months. VOA

At the Hyundai car showroom in the upscale business hub of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a range of swanky models beckon customers, but there are few to be seen. This is in marked contrast to the last three years when buoyant automobile sales helped India overtake Germany to become the world’s fourth largest automobile market. That prompted car makers such as Hyundai, Honda and Toyota to expand their presence in the country.

“In recent years, March and April used to be good months. But now 20 to 30 percent drop is there in these months also,” says Gagan Arora, business head at the Hyundai showroom. “There is a slowdown in the whole industry. New buyers are not being added so frequently.”

Economists say while rising exports to the United States and China present a silver lining, the first challenge facing India’s new government due to take office after vote counting in elections is completed this week, will be how to restore overall momentum to the economy and see why consumers are not so willing to open their wallets. (VOA)