On three recent occasions I have been handed copies of the English-language China Daily as I walked down the streets of Tokyo. It is not a common practice to be handed a free newspaper in Tokyo – virtually nothing but little packets of tissues featuring advertising are free in Japan. If I were not familiar with the China Daily I might think it was a slick-looking start-up publication trying to kick-start a circulation among English-language readers in Japan.
The China Daily has been published since 1981 by a PRC state-owned enterprise called the China Daily Group. It is reportedly heavily subsidized by the Chinese government and for three decades has been targeted at English-reading expatriates and Chinese living in China. In the last two years the newspaper has sought to broaden its distribution internationally.
The copies I have been handed in Tokyo are a weekly compilation of China Daily content packaged as the China Daily Asia Weekly (CDAW). CDAW made its debut in December 2010 and was officially launched in March 2011 at a ceremony in Bangkok by the PRC Ambassador to Thailand, Guan Mu. According to the China Daily the CDAW is published in five countries in Asia with a circulation of 70,000. The goal is to reach a circulation of 120,000 by the start of 2012.
According to the China Daily the CDAW offers
“the latest information and insights about China and the region, including news and features on business, lifestyle and societal issues. Thought-provoking analyses by expert commentators present fresh perspectives into current affairs affecting China and the region as well as the world at large.”
The use of China Daily to project China’s soft power extends beyond the publication of newspapers to organizing bilateral and multi-lateral forums in other Asian countries. The launch ceremony of the CDAW took place at a China Daily-organized and by-invitation-only forum of “movers and shakers” at the Asia Leadership Roundtable in Bangkok on March 16th, 2011. The forum brought together 120 business and government leaders from Thailand and China and focused on China’s 12th Five Year Plan and the opportunities it presents for Thai exports to China.
The article authors are a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese writers from within China as well as Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore, and New Delhi. The China Daily also belongs to a consortium of Asian newspaper publishers called the Asia News Network (ANN) and can pull articles from ANN papers from Tokyo to New Delhi.
The CDAW joins the China Daily’s European and USA editions and brings the paper’s worldwide weekly circulation to almost 400,000.
In Thailand the CDAW is distributed as a supplement to The Nation, Thailand’s largest newspaper. In Japan it is printed and distributed by Ray Pederson’s Bulbous Cell Media Group, publishers of the Tokyo Weekender.
CDAW Content Reflects Beijing’s Policies
The editorial policy of the China Daily closely follows official PRC state policies. A recent CDAW features an editorial on why the Libyan National Transitional Council will not or should not punish China for Beijing’s support of the Gadhafi regime against the rebels. Perhaps wishful thinking on the part of Beijing but the writer argues forcefully that Libya would suffer if Chinese companies are not allowed to pick up where they left off before Gadhafi fell.
Even outside of the editorial pages and mixed in among articles about Jet Li and Hollywood the CDAW includes articles clearly in favor of Beijing’s One-China Policy, opposition to arms sales to Taiwan, and trade disputes. The paper also includes a number of articles critical of individuals and political groups in opposition to Hong Kong government decisions.
The mix of the news and editorial content is cleverly designed to entertain and inform readers while subtlely conveying Beijing’s official line to readers.
Filling a Gap Left by the West
CDAW’s launch in Asia comes a year after Dow Jones closed down the Far Eastern Economic Review, leaving Asia without a significant regional publication. Dow Jones (now owned by Murdoch) closed down the two-decade old Asian Wall Street Journal in 1996.
With China’s growing economic and political clout it’s not surprising that a Chinese publication would move in to challenge the western dominance of English-language publishing in the Asian region. China is making similar moves in the politics, economics and cultural realms of Asia. But as China’s state-owned media begins to compete with non-subsidized media companies outside of China trade issues begin to arise and reciprocity becomes a concern. Bloomberg, CNN, the New York Times are not available to non-elite Chinese citizens yet the China Daily, the Global Times, and Xinhua are freely available in the West. This is not just censorship cries western media, this is a trade barrier.