An unusual press conference

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An unusual press conference


My experience as a journalist covering the Silk Road economic belt is still a fresh memory. But the most surprising part was not the economic development or the cultural sites in China’s poorest region. When I visited Zhangye, an ancient Silk Road base and a town of horses and corns, I was astounded by a news conference - usually an everyday affair for a reporter.

The chief of the province’s publicity department was holding a press conference for domestic and foreign reporters at 8:20 p.m. When I got off the hotel elevator, I saw a sign reading, bujianbusan, or “don’t leave without seeing each other.” Ladies in thick makeup and short skirts were calling for customers. The venue was right next to a karaoke bar.

I thought I had mistaken the news conference site, but the room was right there. Less than 10 minutes later, the hotel corridor filled with reporters and karaoke patrons. It was awkward and shocking. What would happen if this was in Korea? The officials who organized the event would be considered lunatics.

Some 100 reporters attended the news conference, and I thought the publicity chief was powerful. After a brief greeting, a question and answer session began immediately. About 20 minutes later, someone introduced themselves as a student of the Hong Kong Baptist University. What was a college student doing at this press conference? “The United States is also advocating building a Silk Road Economic Belt. What is China’s strategy and how is it different from America’s?” asked the student.

In 2011, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed a strategy to expand investment in Central Asia to reconstruct the Silk Road economic belt and reinforce U.S. influence.

The publicity chief responded. “We are not concerned,” he said. “America has its strategies, and we have our own.” He then presented China’s plan for more than 10 minutes and also answered questions from several other college students. This conference was very different from others that entail questions by pre-selected reporters and obvious answers.

It was refreshingly amusing. In the nearly two-hour event, the publicity chief provided specific and logical answers with data. Without any reference or assistance, he explained the history of the Silk Road, China’s strategy, the origin of the Yellow River civilization, even academic theories and the current state of the cultural industry. He was not the stereotypical corrupt Chinese civil servant, and I asked myself if I could think of any Korean civil servants on par with him.

After the conference, I asked a Zhangye publicity official why the news conference was held right next to a karaoke bar. “Was there any reason not to hold it there?” asked the publicity chief.

“Why were the students in attendance?” I asked

“Some 50 Chinese students studying journalism in Hong Kong had a field trip. It will help them to broaden their experiences,” he said.

“The propaganda chief seems very capable,” I mentioned.

“Since President Xi Jinping took office, anyone who doesn’t do his job right is dismissed immediately,” he answered.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 26, Page 34

* The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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