Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An American journalist reports from China's west

By Anthony Vasquez

CARSON, Calif. — In light of recent ethnic violence in western China, the Chinese government has tried to emphasize that its policies are bringing prosperity to the region. One way of doing this is to give foreign reporters a guided tour.

Mary Kay Magistad, a reporter for Public Radio International’s The World, participated a few weeks ago in such a trip organized by the Foreign Ministry. In her blog posts and radio stories, she explains that the government has relaxed laws prohibiting foreign reporters from interviewing people, but that there is still local resistance to this change in policy.

Magistad traveled through the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, home to the Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim Uighurs and largely Tibetan Qinghai Province in western China. Though some in the government claim to want greater freedoms for foreign reporters, organizers of these government-sponsored trips include destinations to government-run factories or places where the people awaiting them toe the government’s line. In a Tibetan monastery in Qinghai, local officials stayed near. As she wrote in her blog:

The purpose of Foreign Ministry-organized trips has long been to sell a certain way of looking at an issue. The more sensitive the issue, the more careful the organizers tend to be to make sure foreign journalists don’t have time to stray off-piste.

But she also said there are advantages to joining a government tour: reporters have the chance to speak to otherwise hard to interview government officials. Although she could have legally traveled on her own through these same areas, Magistad said that there is value in seeing both what is happening in these parts of China and how the Chinese government wants to generate its own story, one that glosses over the conquest and unequal development of these formerly independent lands.