A friend of mine who works in a US senator’s office and was at the White House ceremony of Hu Jintao contacted me over the weekend, apparently concerned that due to the media censorship employed on the mainland, I might not have heard about the outburst from the protester during the Chinese president’s speech. As he wrote, "the live broadcast carried on CNN International was CUT OFF in China for a minute and a half during the reporter/protester’s outburst."
Well, without trying to sound too callous, of course it was! Yet the more puzzling aspect, for me, is why my friend might think I would get my news from watching CNN. Obviously he isn’t aware that CNN is routinely blacked out by the authorities, pretty much anytime the network begins to talk about China. Clearly, this is an arrangement that CNN has agreed to in order to broadcast on the mainland. So why is there no outrage about that, when only a few weeks ago Google and the other internet companies were lambasted by some Congressmen for agreeing to self-censorship in return for access. No outrage is warranted. To do business with a country, you have to abide by their laws, even when those laws are wrong. And the fact is, engagement will lead to change faster than non-engagement.
Now, as to the particular incident, in which a reporter for the Epoch Times yelled at Hu for imprisoning Falun Gong members: yes, it is regrettable that Chinese are not free to practice whatever religion they want, or to truly speak their minds, or to gather openly in protest. It is shameful for the government to exercise so much control over their lives. But it is decidedly better than it was 17 years ago, when the military was deployed against the people, and it is a far cry from the days when listening to Western music would have put you in the lockup.
The point is this: fabulous that a protester interrupted Hu’s speech. Let him taste a little open dissent for himself. That is what America is all about. But at the same time, I wonder about the image of China in most Americans’ minds. When my friend refers to the government as "the repressive regime of the PRC," does he have any idea how much change has occurred here? Surely there is a long way to go, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Beijing.