City's Chinese Papers Fight a Press War in Addition to Serving a Growing Local Audience, Hong Kong-Based Newspapers See Vancouver Editions as an Opening to China's Market

Article excerpt

SINCE late last year, Vancouver, British Columbia - Canada's favored destination for Hong Kong emigrants - has been the focus of a press war between two Chinese newspapers. At stake is the publishers' access to millions of potential readers in mainland China, as well as readers here.

Far-sighted Hong Kong businessmen began making peace with communist China years ago. They built shrines to the dead in ancestral villages, donated schools in their parents' hometowns, and generally made efforts to establish goodwill in the run-up to Hong Kong's return to Chinese control in 1997.

Now some Hong Kong companies, including newspaper publishers, have begun an aggressive acquisition of overseas business networks. The aim is to increase their competitive advantage in talks with Chinese authorities. The greater the international market presence, analysts say, the more attractive their joint-venture proposals will be.

Sing Tao, one of Hong Kong's largest newspapers, has already proven the benefits of having a worldwide network of papers, including one here. In June, Sing Tao will launch the first-ever joint-venture daily newspaper in mainland China. Its partner in this venture, the Chinese government, is still negotiating the newspaper's content.

Initial circulation of the Shenzheng Economic Times is set at a modest 30,000. But talks on other joint-venture projects with the Chinese government are under way. Sing Tao's success at winning agreement from Beijing is considered a breakthrough.

"The most important thing was the strength of Sing Tao in overseas connections," says Ung Gim Sei, head of Sing Tao's China projects at the company's Hong Kong headquarters. "Sing Tao is everywhere in the world where there are Chinese. It provides a network to reach Chinese everywhere."

Now one of Sing Tao's biggest competitors in Hong Kong, Ming Pao, is following suit, spending millions of dollars in a bid to match Sing Tao's strength abroad.

The start-up of a Vancouver edition of Ming Pao, one of Hong Kong's oldest and most respected dailies, was reported by the English-language press as yet another indication of how Asian this west coast city has become.

Several hundred of the city's most prominent Chinese and Hong Kong businessmen mingled over Asian delicacies at a lavish reception to launch the paper, Vancouver's third Chinese language daily. (The other Chinese language daily is the Taiwan-based World Journal, which has a small circulation here.) Characteristic of Vancouver's less-than-integrated business community, there was only a handful of Caucasions present - not counting the waiters.

The launch of a new paper during an economic recession reinforced the commonly held belief that future market growth lies in the local Asian community.

But Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs and Vancouver's Asian business community are well aware that a race for international market share - rather than Vancouver market share - has begun.

Ming Pao and Sing Tao sources admit that the money to be made in Vancouver and throughout North America is "peanuts" by Hong Kong standards. Circulation for the well-produced dailies is no more than 45,000 combined. Instead, the investments are thought of as "parachuting" on a very large scale.

"Parachuters" are Hong Kong businessmen who acquire Canadian citizenship and then return to Hong Kong to continue business in the more lucrative market there.

FOR example, Ming Pao's Vancouver edition, which has an almost wholly Hong Kong-born staff, represents a foreign investment aimed at winning big rewards closer to home. …