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International reporters and academic experts detail China’s hot topics

A visit to Reuters' North Asia bureau

The issues surrounding China’s economic growth — inflation, population, urbanization, media censorship — are the main topic of conversation as we converse with people living and working in the country.

In a series of lectures, Phil Smith of Thomson Reuters‘ North Asia bureau and Andrew Broome from The Wall Street Journal Asia Edition shed additional light on coverage of these hot issues and also offered their own perception of China’s position in comparison to the rest of the world.

Smith said that while the world perceives that China has multiple issues of focus, it really does not. Instead, he called them “sensitivities” and noted that this perception is not so much influenced by topics like inflation but by the world’s fascination with watching the way the country continues to develop.

Historically, there is no country that matches the demand and the speed of China’s growth over the last 30 years. By 2010, the population grew to 1.34 billion, according to the Chinese Bureau of Labor Statistics. And China could surpass the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy.

“The world is interested and fascinated by China and the challenges its growth is giving to the West,” Smith said.

Smith said China’s main challenge is rising prices. He called it an export-driven economy and said it needs to begin moving toward more domestic consumption in order to combat the negative effects of a growing economy. Smith compared China’s growth to Europe’s expansion some 200 years ago, when it was undergoing a series of transformations during the industrial revolution. By looking at the effects Europe experienced during the revolution, he said journalists can detect important areas to focus on when covering China.

Andrew Broome inside The Wall Street Journal's Asia bureau

Broome also discussed the importance of journalists’ coverage when we met with him at The Wall Street Journal’s Asia headquarters this morning. He said the journalists reporting on China are sitting on stories that impact virtually every world market. These stories, Broome noted, all stem from China’s ever-growing demand.

The chronical problem on the media front though, he said, is that foreign publications like The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, are restricted from hiring Chinese journalists and must hire foreign reporters. Broome said media restrictions aren’t as severe as they were before 1989, but in the last year there has been a “backward lurch” in the media’s freedom of coverage.

Xu Wu, a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and also a faculty director on our study abroad trip, said the recent tightening on the media is mostly a result of the upcoming transition in the generations of leadership. He said it’s a “conservative time” and as China prepares for its next transition it will be a country to continue observing.

As our trip in China progresses, it is my hope that we will be able to observe some of the country’s preparation for this transition and later offer insight on what journalists may or may not expect to see in the upcoming year.

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