[FOUNTAIN]How China tries to keep its secrets

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[FOUNTAIN]How China tries to keep its secrets

China has many secrets, so naturally the foreign correspondents in Beijing have fun. They feel like they are searching for hidden treasures. If they are lucky, they can get a scoop. The reporters have a high morale, but it is too dangerous for them to go sniffing around indiscriminately. There are certain forbidden fruits that foreign reporters in Beijing have agreed not to touch, though this is never acknowledged.
Until the mid-1990s, there were three such areas: Tension with Taiwan, the dispute with Tibet and the Tiananmen Square protests. Taiwan supposedly involved China’s unification; Tibet has been struggling for independence; and Tiananmen Square was a sensitive subject. In 1999, Falun Gong was added to this list. Try looking into any of these taboo subjects, and a foreign correspondent would have to pay a price, as light as deportation or as heavy as imprisonment.
Fifty-five-year-old Ching Cheong was born in Shantou, Guangdong province, and grew up in Hong Kong. A British passport holder, he is an East Asian correspondent for the Singapore daily, The Straits Times. On April 22, he was arrested in Guangzhou. Last week, the Chinese authorities charged him with passing Chinese military and economic secrets to Taiwan, accepting 20,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $2,600) for every 3,000 words. But his wife says Mr. Ching was captured while trying to obtain manuscripts of comments of former prime minister Zhao Ziyang about the Tiananmen Square incident. The manuscripts were drafted by a friend of Mr. Zhao. Whether it was the Taiwan issue or Tiananmen Square, Mr. Ching must have attempted to broach a taboo subject.
With so much to hide, the Chinese government is stubborn about censoring the media. This year, Beijing has been waging a “war against the Internet.” The government is busy establishing a high-tech censoring system to control online chatting and e-mails exchanged by 100 million Internet users in China. The estimated cost of the project is $800 million. Beijing only gives foreign portal sites permission to operate in China if they restrict search capabilities on words and phrases like “freedom” and “human rights.” The Western world laughs at these efforts. They argue that China is going against progress, and is bound to fail. But Beijing does not mind being ridiculed. It claims that its unique socialism has even embraced capitalism. American political scientist Marc Blecher wrote a book about China’s recent changes called “China Against the Tides.”
Today in Korea, the most controversial subject is the eavesdropping scandal. Would disclosing the contents of the illegal tapes be going with the tides, or against them? What will the next generation say?

by You Sang-cheol

The writer is the Asian news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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