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2009-08-11 10:32:00
Embassy Beijing
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DE RUEHBJ #2298/01 2231032
O 111032Z AUG 09
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 002298 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2034


Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson. Reasons


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2034


Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson. Reasons 1.
4 (b/d)


1. (C) Despite tight political controls, China's netizens are
increasingly using the Internet as a forum for public
discussion and even, at times, as a platform to challenge
actions by government authorities, Chinese electronic media
professionals told State Department Policy Planning Director
Anne-Marie Slaughter. Interaction between meeting
participants underscored the pressures on traditional
Communist Party media outlets as a result of
commercialization, as well as the fissures and tensions
between official media and leading-edge Internet
organizations. End Summary.

Growing Power of the Internet

2. (C) Representatives from several media organizations met
with State Department Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie
Slaughter on May 31 to discuss the role of the Internet in
China, including blogging and recent Internet innovations
such as Facebook and Twitter. The PRC participants were Mei
Jingsong (protect), Director of the Information Center of the
popular commercial news portal; He Jian (protect),
Director of "QQ," a major Internet portal based in Guangzhou
that includes blogging and instant messaging as well as more
traditional news and information; and Tian Wei (protect), an
anchor on China's English-language television channel CCTV-9.
Concern over political reprisals kept Senior international
correspondent for the commercial news portal Netease Wu Nan
(protect) from attending (see para 12 below). The
journalists told Director Slaughter that the Internet had
increasingly become a forum for the exchange of ideas and the
discussion of issues in China even in the face of strictures
imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Blogs Are Hot...

3. (C) Blogging in particular was an important medium for
exchanging ideas and expressing diverse viewpoints, the group

said, but the use of blogs to generate public discussion was
just beginning.'s Mei Jingsong said that blogs were
picked up by news portals and other Internet platforms and
widely circulated and that some bloggers had become quite
influential. CCTV-9's Tian Wei said that the response of
bloggers to visits to China this year by Secretary Clinton
and Treasury Secretary Geithner indicated that netizens were
beginning to revisit blogs to ask new questions and generate
discussion on an array of issues. The May 31-June 2 visit of
Secretary Geithner, Tian said, had prompted an Internet
discussion of China-U.S. relations. She noted that netizen
response to her own blog on Secretary Clinton's February
visit had sparked conversation on a range of issues that
continued to percolate as people revisited the blog several
months later. Tian's blog had also prompted a reassessment
of Secretary Clinton's personal style and China policy. Tian
said she had initially cautioned against overly optimistic
expectations regarding the visit. Chinese television
coverage had shattered Chinese stereotypes of the Secretary
as a stern, hard-line official. The image of Secretary
Clinton that emerged in the extensive discussion of her in
the blogosphere was of a thoughtful, engaging diplomat who
would be good for U.S.-China relations, Tian said.

4. (C) While the meeting participants were reluctant to
conclude that blogging or other Internet platforms were
having an impact on central policy, they pointed to a number
of examples of changes in local government decisions as a
result of pressure from angry netizens expressing their views
via blogs and news portals. QQ's He Jian mentioned the case
in Xiamen in late 2007 when a "walking protest" by local
residents had stopped the construction of a petrochemical
plant. Local authorities had ordered media not to report on
the plant construction, but they could not stop the flow of
information on the Internet, which in turn led to the
protest.'s Mei mentioned a 2004 case in
Heilongjiang Province when local authorities had imposed
harsher penalties on a BMW owner who had hit and killed a
child after more than 200,000 comments were posted on protesting the original sentence. CCTV's Tian
pointed to recent webchats with the public by Party chief Hu
Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao as an indication that top
leaders were trying to turn the power of the Internet to
their advantage.

BEIJING 00002298 002 OF 003

... But Tweets Are Cool

5. (C) Although blogging has taken hold rapidly as a major
Internet tool in China, other recent Internet innovations,
such as "Facebook" or the microblogging format "Twitter,"
have not achieved the same popularity or social function.
The journalists said that Chinese netizens tended to use the
English-language version of Facebook and that they used it
primarily for games and fantasy play, not as a tool for
social networking as in the United States. QQ's He Jian
observed that text messages and Bulletin Boards remained the
main medium for social organizing. (Note: The potential of
Twitter as a medium of rapid communication has caught the
attention of Chinese censors, who blocked
following the early-July Xinjiang riots. Many prominent
bloggers have begun using Twitter, and, according to Embassy
contacts, are employing technical means to get around the
blocking software. PolOffs are able to access Fanfou, a
Chinese version of Twitter, from Beijing, but censors
selectively remove postings from the site.)

6. (C)'s Mei said that her portal had benefited from
Yahoo's early experience. She was proud of's
reputation as one of the foremost examples of "new media" in
China, especially for its news. The website summarized or
re-posted thousands of newspaper articles from all of China's
provinces, she noted, and maintained a very good relationship
with traditional media. She said Chinese reporters searched every day to find current stories, but noted that
there were political limits to what the portal was allowed to
do. journalists did not write original news stories
on sensitive issues, such as political or financial topics,
but focused on editing stories from elsewhere. had
its own writers on entertainment and similar non-political
areas and carried some foreign sources. Anyone could sign up
to blog on and did not need to use a true name,
although they had to reveal it to Sina, Mei explained.

Defense of State-Run Media

7. (C) CCTV's Tian Wei, in what appeared to be a response to
He Jian and Mei Jingsong's implicit discrediting of official
media, challenged the credibility and social responsibility
of what she derisively referred to as "the new media,"
especially blogs. Managers of state-run media, especially
CCTV, she asserted, took responsibility for media content but
those who ran commercial news portals, much less blogging
platforms, were not held to the same standards of
accountability, she alleged. She declared that the web
divided people rather than informing them, and allowed anyone
who wished to do so to simply "vent," without presenting the
other side of an issue. Tian was especially critical of what
she called the "verbal violence" and "Internet mob" mentality
that had crept into Chinese cyberspace and triggered actual
violence against others by those inflamed by the Internet.

8. (C) Tian stated that state-run media were diversifying and
that CCTV now offered the commercial websites a form of
competition via its new webTV. She called for looking "at
all types of media" before making snap judgments about the
nature and quality of "new" vs "old" media in China.

Media Control: Ever-Present and Growing

9. (C) Asked to comment on the degree of Party control of the
Internet in the past five years,'s Mei emphatically
declared that controls were "tighter than ever." She
acknowledged that had recently removed the blog of
controversial artist and blogger Ai Weiwei from the portal
under orders from the Central Propaganda Department. Mei
declined to comment on the specific reasons for the order,
but said she received similar phone calls from the censors
"all day every day." (Note: In addition to his politically
provocative blogs, Ai has been compiling a database on the
number of casualties from the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake and
has been publicly urging victims to send him information. He
was visited by security officers the night before his blog
was removed from Sina after having attended a reception at
the Embassy for Speaker Pelosi in late May 2009.)

10. (C) QQ's He Jian strongly concurred with Mei, adding that
"big brother was here five years ago and big brother is still
here today." Once such an order was given, He said, all
other websites fell into line like a row of dominoes, and QQ

BEIJING 00002298 003 OF 003

had no choice but to remove all material by Ai. He said he
had been compelled to move his own blog to different
platforms several times in China, then to the U.S., then to
Mongolia, to keep ahead of the censors. He said that the
media had opened up during the earthquake period last year
but had been shut down again since. However, the degree of
control varied from place to place, depending in part on
whether the propaganda authorities were central or local and
on who the Party officials were, Mei and He said. QQ had
more latitude or "space" than other provincial websites or
those based in Beijing, He acknowledged, because Guangdong
authorities were more tolerant. All of the journalists noted
that the Party paid people to post comments on the Web to
influence netizen opinion, the "fifty-cent" phenomenon. QQ's
He said one can tell which posts were "fifty-centers"
because, he claimed, they all originated in one place --
Ya'an, Sichuan.

11. (C) CCTV's Tian rejected these characterizations of
"so-called media control," noting the growing diversity and
expanding "space" for content of all media that in the past
had not been allowed. She noted the bold reporting from
Party-controlled southern papers, such as Southern Weekly and
Southern Weekend, and the prominent, non-official Caijing
(Finance) magazine.

12. (C) Wu Nan, senior international correspondent for the
commercial news portal Netease, told PressOff shortly before
the dinner that she would attend but called at the last
minute to say she had checked with her superiors and was
suddenly too busy to come. (Note: Netease had cancelled a
webchat the previous week with House Speaker Pelosi following
official direction that the Pelosi visit be covered via
official Xinhua reports only, but Wu had moderated the
webchat as planned by switching to a U.S.-based Internet
host. For this reason, Wu may have felt she was already
vulnerable and did not want to invite further censure by
attending the dinner.)

Tensions Evident: Journalism's "Split Personality"
-------------- --------------

13. (C) The success of commercial media and the drive for
greater professionalism in all media, CCTV-9's Tian
acknowledged, had created a dilemma for mainstream official
media. State-run media were still the "mouthpiece of the
Party," she said, and took this responsibility seriously. At
the same time, Party journalists wished to serve the public
by providing education and information. As a result, she
opined, official media had developed a "split personality."
There was tension between the "mouthpiece" principle of the
Party and journalistic notions of the public's "right to
know." She said she respected the commercial Internet's sole
purpose of pursuing profit and observed that Party
journalists too "have to make a living" and conduct a
"professional life." They could not criticize officialdom,
she said, but they could push the envelope. They were
treading a fine line and had to "look at the whole picture."

CCTV Goes Global, Maybe

14. (C) Tian said there was a major debate underway in CCTV
over how to implement the Party leadership's recent
instructions to Chinese media to "go global" and get closer
to overseas audiences. Questions were being raised, she
said, on whether Chinese journalists were well enough
informed about the United States and other countries or
whether they had the qualifications to carry out such a
mandate. Some felt that China was not ready. Its
journalists needed more exposure to the outside world and to
non-Chinese media and more training in the skills and
techniques of such Western news media as CNN and CNBC.
Chinese media needed more professionalism. Tian contrasted
this push for professionalism with the debates waged in CCTV
in the 1990s over whether to use a traditional Xinhua format
focused on the meetings and activities of state leaders or
the personal interest approach taken by China News Service
(Zhongguo Xinwen She), China's wire service for overseas
Chinese. (Note: In August, CCTV for the second year in a
row sent a group of senior editors to the U.S. for training
at Columbia University. At CCTV's request, the Embassy
arranged for the group to attend the August 6 State
Department daily press briefing. In July, CCTV announced a
major reorganization to optimize resources into one
centralized news center across all CCTV channels.)