China to Relax Press Limits Ahead of 2008 Games ; but a Police Training Manual Teaches English Phrases Needed to Detain Foreigners for Reporting on Falun Gong

Article excerpt

In a sweeping liberalization of its reporting rules, China Friday suspended decades-old restrictions on foreign journalists in the run- up to the 2008 Olympic Games.

The new regulations, allowing foreign reporters to travel throughout the country and to interview people without prior official permission, are clearly aimed at keeping the government's promise to the International Olympic Committee that it would allow free reporting during and before the 2008 games.

Foreign correspondents in China greeted the news with cautious optimism. "This is a welcome step," says Melinda Liu, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China and Beijing bureau chief for Newsweek magazine. "The proof of how valuable the new regulations will be will depend on their implementation, however," she adds. "The biggest concern is still the [authorities'] culture of nontransparency and the habit of not being open to foreign or any other media."

The strength of that culture is clearly evident in an official police language-training manual obtained by the Monitor. It is being used to teach Beijing policemen the English phrases they might need when dealing with Olympic visitors.

Published by China's Public Security Bureau University and the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, "Olympic Security English" contains a practice dialogue entitled, "How to Stop Illegal News Coverage.".

The dialogue teaches policemen the English phrases they would need to detain a foreign reporter found talking to a Chinese citizen about Falun Gong, an outlawed spiritual movement.

Beijing city patrolmen are given the manual as part of a home study program according to one city police officer who asked not to be identified.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, announcing the new regulations at a press conference, would not say whether the manual would be withdrawn in light of the decree promulgated Friday in the name of Premier Wen Jiabao.

He did say, however, that his ministry would "brief relevant domestic agencies and departments on the new regulations and ask them to abide by them. We will ensure that they are duly and responsibly implemented."

Mr. Liu also pledged that foreign reporters' new freedoms would not be limited to the Olympic Games and their preparation, although the decree specifies that the regulations apply to "reporting activities carried out by foreign journalists covering the Beijing Olympic Games and related matters."

"Foreign journalists will not limit their reporting activities to the Games themselves," Liu acknowledged. "They will also cover politics, science, technology, culture, and the economy. The 'related matters' ... expands the areas on which foreign journalists can report."

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which has long called on the Chinese authorities to lift restrictions on press freedom, describes the new rules as "interesting" but complains that they do "not go far enough," according to spokeswoman Saria Rees- Roberts. …