While most journalists go to parties in hopes of congress, next year promises something different. Cai Wu, the head of the news and information department of the State Council, said in recent remarks that starting January 1, 2007, the rules pertaining to foreign journalists during the Olympics will take effect (report in Chinese). As you might recall, this means that instead of going through all the red tape, a foreign journalist can do an interview almost wherever they want, with almost whoever they want. You only need the consent of the interviewee, and you still are not allowed to go to restricted areas, including military areas, and cannot leak any sensitive or classified information.
One other thing worth noting is that while in the past, foreign journalists had assistants in their bureaus that helped them out but were not technically called journalists, they are now free to hire Chinese people (but only from sanctioned organizations) to help them in the actual act of interviewing.
Furthermore, Cai Wu said that the 17th Party Congress will also consider allowing foreign journalists some coverage of the event. The Party Congresses are traditionally where a new crop of leaders is chosen and “introduced” to the public.
Of course, all of us are asking the same question: will it last? Is this openness just a huge PR stunt before the upcoming Olympics, or will there be lasting changes? In a BBC report (inaccessible without proxy) there was the following paragraph:
Cai Wu said, if the conveniences allowed to foreign journalists are beneficial to greater understanding and communication with foreign media, then perhaps China need to go back …
… which we take to mean that these changes, in some form, could become permanent.
Picture of Cai Wu getting his drink on from chinanews.com.cn