Access to truth and surfeit of inquiry; The End of the South China Morning Post and legitimate investigative journalism in South Asia.

New South China Morning Post Editor, Wang Xiangwei

Not one media commentator can agree on the exact date when the South China Morning Post’s progression from relevance to inconsequence began, but it’s certainly been an incremental process. Considered one of the best papers in Asia, and certainly the best English Language paper, the SCMP has continually been the source for good investigative journalism in China. From its auspicious start in Asia’s most politically active city, the 109 year old paper is slowly becoming a negligible force, as it grows into the perfect example of China’s vision for a stultified news media.

Perhaps it’s lazy to imply that the rot set in after the paper was bought by the Murdoch Empire back in 1987, but that was certainly when its standing as a community paper was tested. Despite its unethical reputation however, the Murdoch group is guilty only of modernizing and commodifying what was still considered a ‘colonial era’ paper. This inevitable development marked the beginning of a shift towards a ‘corporate face’ and away from the community service that the paper had always provided. It was quickly re-floated as part of the much broader ‘SCMP publishing group’ in the early 90’s and bought by the Malaysian hotelier family, the Kuok’s.

The 90’s were a very sensitive time for press and expressive freedoms in Hong Kong, as after 150 years of separation and a decade after Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong became part of greater China under the “one country two systems” ruling. This was a socially tumultuous and frightening time for the Hong Kong Chinese, many of whom were refugees from violent communist repression. After the hand-over their worst fears were not realized however, Beijing sought to calm Hong Kong’s frightened residents; freedom of speech and assembly were upheld and for the best part of a decade the CCP stayed out of Hong Kong’s political affairs. During this time the South China Morning Post was still considered a reputable paper that made remarkable investigative finds regarding Chinese and Hong Kong politics. It kept politicians honest, and provided divergent and interesting opinions. Most importantly it faithfully served a community interested in improving their English, keeping up to date with the rest of the world and reading voices they could call their own.

Over time however, rumors emerged that the Kuok family, with an eye towards Beijing, had started to use their positions on the board of directors to effect a change in the editorial style. One after the other, newly hired and reputable editors quit the paper, meanwhile the contracts of many award winning foreigners and liberal-leaning locals were allowed to expire or had their work made impotent by the constraints of the Kuoks. In the interim, the gaps left by foreigners and disgruntled leftists were filled by staff from mainland propaganda papers. Some of these new journalists have barely attempted to hide their distaste for Westernism and Hong Kong’s distinct culture and they certainly have effected a change in the ideological output.

Protest over Li Wangyang’s death and the subsequent ‘cover-up’

Consumer and industry unhappiness with the paper’s direction had been building for the better part of a decade, but the seemingly politically minded layoffs of liberal and foreign staff were just a precursor to the concerns of CCP involvement. Notably, the recent appointment of a new editor, the 10th in as many years led to real problems for the paper’s reputation; claims of blatant censorship have blighted his tenure. It certainly didn’t help that he was a communist insider connected to media censorship committees, but in this case his actions was soon to speak louder than his reputation. Wang Xiangwei, was mainland born and had previously wrote for the very pro-Beijing, ‘China Daily’, and the mentioning of this past made up the initial extent of complaints against him. But after the 2012 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, real public anger about his editorship started to formulate. Notably, when he intervened to scupper a front page story on the suspicious death of Tiananmen era dissident Li Wangyang, the SCMP stood out as the only paper not to cover the issue. When bluntly asked to explain his decision by a senior sub-editor, Xiangwei’s furious response was leaked to the media and placed the paper on the covers of newspapers around the world for all the wrong reasons.

Then out of the woodwork came a letter of protest from a recently dismissed journalist, Paul Mooney, who condemned Xiangwei and the Kwok family as censors. On the editor’s proclivity to censor his work Moodey stated, “For seven months, he had basically blocked me from writing any China stories… some two dozen suggestions went unanswered by the China Desk–in one case a story was approved, but the editor told me Wang had overruled him”. On his award winning, anti Beijing article, “silence of the dissidents”, Moodey opined “it sat on China Desk for about three months; a practice I later learned was not uncommon when Wang wanted to let a story shrink in importance”. Around the same time a second letter, signed by 23 previously employed journalists and editors; both local and foreign, was published regarding their worries about the paper’s direction and content. Xiangwei’s response to all of this and to the increasing ridicule and condemnation from local and foreign publications alike was an un-characteristically honest admission of fault in the case of Li Wangyang. Despite this, his protestations that he wasn’t a censor came off as hollow. “If I had a hidden agenda, it would have come out a long time ago”, was his most substantial response; which seems a patently unprovable statement and a poor answer to the very serious charge of media censorship. Another poor excuse from the editor was that ‘because the issue wasn’t being covered in China then the SCMP shouldn’t cover it either’. If nothing else, this was the clearest confirmation so far; that indeed the SCMP would be taking its cues from Beijing from now on.

The results of the SCMP’s content re-jigg have been clear in supporting this assumption; recent high profile articles and opinion pieces on national education, foreign affairs and local politics have all drawn a great amount of criticism and read like pure propaganda. Among the more notable instances; Tammy Tam’s pedestrian interview with the controversial ‘Panchen Lama’, Alex Lo’s angry attacks on protesting high school students and all of Eric X Li’s anti-western tirades, come to mind. It used to be that if you wanted to hear that democracy protesters didn’t deserve their rights, that the Dalai Lama was a dangerous separatists or that Hong Kong people must become more patriotic then you’d turn to the Global Times. Sadly these talking points can now be regularly found on front page and inset of the South China Morning Post.

There is currently no need for another CCP-run English language paper; China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times and People’s Daily all run significant English news departments. At the regional level there are at least a couple more papers spread throughout China too. And since all Chinese publications are required to tow the party line, it means that for the most part they are all ideologically indistinguishable.

If we exclude the South China Morning Post there are no longer any reputable middle-ground or democratic-leaning papers left in Hong Kong. This is bad for Hong Kong’s press freedoms, but it’s also detrimental for journalism as a whole as foreign correspondents and news desks disappear across the world. The South China Morning Post was an invaluable source for un-biased investigative news stories and the gap in the ‘South Asian’ news feed won’t be filled easily.

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CPC alternatives to censorship

Overn the last decade internet use has spiked in China, from just over half a million users in the mid to late 90’s to over 500 million  now. This huge multitude of people online has no doubt caused Beijing a great deal of anxiety. As a source of public dissent and promulgation of unsanctioned ideas the internet is a real threat to their hegemony. Because of this China has seen a number of solutions to fix the problem of ‘internet freedom’ over the years; in 1997 the CPC first started to regulate the use of the internet, the next year the ‘Golden Shield’ (Great Firewall) project was conceived and completed in 2006/2008. While in 2009 the ‘Green Dam” programme, which called for the mandatory inclusion of surveillance microchips in all new computers almost passed into law.

These solutions all had their limitations; the 1997 regulations only gave China the framework of laws and their prosecution, not the methods for action, the Great Firewall can be circumvented by proxy servers, subverted ideologically through subtlety and sarcasm and served as a focus point for more criticism. Meanwhile, the Green Dam project was a disaster; it was unwieldy and ineffective in many of its parameters, obviously and poorly plagiarised, a potentially huge security risk and poorly disguised an ‘anti-pornography measure’, as such it was unpopular and was scrapped during the testing phase.

The subtleties of the internet seemed to stifle complete control, but at some point, shortly before Green Dam, Beijing stumbled upon the best answer so far and it had nothing to do with new coding or programmes. Beijing’s solution involved the adding of a social element to the equation. In 2004 the Publicity Department of Changsa city, seemingly of their own volition, hired China’s first ‘anonymous internet commentators’; a group whose job was to surreptitiously post positive comments and discredit complaints. Over the next three years this method proved so effective in stifling online dissent that it grew exponentially, organically spreading to different parts of the country and through the different channels of the CPC’s body politic. From every regional and city council to news sites, forums, chat rooms and social networking sites, CPC commentators are now commonly found on foreign news sites too.

An internet commentator conference broadcast on Chinese Television

Originally paid 0.50 Yuan a post, the writers are now popularly (and derisively) known as the “50 Cent Party”, and their goal, according to the head of Guangzhou’s City Inspectors Committee Li Yangui,  is to “track and analyze… public opinion, prevent the spread of undesirable information” and ultimately provide “positive guidance of public opinion”. Highlighting their importance to China’s internet policy, three years after the germination of the concept in 2007 Premier Hu Jintao called for the proliferation of this method at a major politburo conference. CPC support of this method undoubtedly lies in its ability to effectively direct online opinion towards any narrative end almost anonymously. This use of anonymity, rather than just deleting or blocking offensive material, serves to effectively remove the spectre of CPC heavy-handedness and tricks users into thinking the pro-party talking points they’re reading are the unbiased opinions of regular netizens. In a widely circulated, leaked communiqué that says much about the ‘scapegoating’ culture of the CPC, the stated true objective of the ‘50 Centers’ was revealed; to undermine the influence of “Taiwanese democracy”; as if China’s societal problems stemmed from anything Taiwan has done. Included in the supposed missive was also this incredible list of guidelines:

  1.   To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan.
  2. Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.”
  3.  To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.
  4. Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values.
  5.  Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions.
  6. Increase the exposure that positive developments inside China receive; further accommodate the work of maintaining [social] stability.

Estimations by some experts range anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of full and part-time anonymous commentators working in China, according to local Chinese news media some large cities and regions openly employ hundreds of writers. On the other hand, some government and media sources deny the existence of paid commentators. In an interview with the Global Times, a former employee of the Public Security Bureau, Mrs Wang, implied that the 50 Cent Party was really an unorganised collection of pro-party citizens working outside of the state. Contradicting herself, Wang then went on to state that paid commentators are a real phenomenon; “It is necessary to have the commentators because sometimes truth may hurt social stability”.

Despite the occasional denials, the existence of the 50 Cent Party  is considered a well known fact, and the proliferation of the concept seems to imply that it is successful and here to stay. The concept does have its detractors and debateable weaknesses however; Hu Yong in an article by The Global Times argues that the commentators, because they are anonymous, dilute the veracity of their personas and that their very existence only makes “the public more aware of them”. On platforms like Twitter, he says, their anonymity means that “they can’t work if nobody follows them” and if they weren’t anonymous and people knew they are ‘50 Centers’ no one would. He concludes by saying that the ‘50 Cent Party’ has actually damaged the practice of ‘opinion guidance’ in China; it now “carries the stigma of immorality… commentators were only doing it for the money.” Furthermore, awareness of the ‘50 cent’ concept has damaged the reputation of China internationally, suspiciously pro-CPC comments by anonymous commentators are now often met with derision on Western news sites. As Zhang Shengjun, a politics professor complained in an article on the Global Times; the 50 Cent tag “has become a baton waved towards all Chinese patriots”. These are the eventual and obvious consequences of being duplicitous, no one will trust you.

Meanwhile the Chinese people have to live with the worry that their government are distorting and manipulating the news even in the commentary sections of their favourite websites.

China’s new KGB mindset?

The recent amendment of China’s longstanding “Criminal Procedure” Law, specifically passages concerning the legalisation of “secret detentions”, has created a level of home-grown concern and criticism not heard since the arrest of the prominent Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei in early 2011. The wide ranging reform of the justice system, the largest and most important changes in 15 years, has been heralded via a period of public consultation in order for the Chinese people to become familiar with the new ammendments. Of particular note to some non-party political voices however, including close associates of Mr Weiwei, is the content of just one paragraph in the new proposal;

“the public security organ shall take a detained person into custody (and) within 24 hours notify his family or the unit to which he belongs of the reasons for the detention and the place of custody, unless it is impossible to notify or (his/her crime is related to) endangering State security or terrorism (for) such notification would hinder investigation“.

On paper this reading differs very little from the original 1970’s clause wherein;

“within 24 hours after a person has been detained, his family or the unit to which he belongs shall be notified of the reasons for detention and the place of custody, except in circumstances where such notification would hinder the investigation or there is no way of notifying them“.

Though Ai Weiwei, formerly imprisoned for “tax evasion” can’t speak to the media (the terms of his probation), his wife Lu Qing can, and has attempted to raise awareness of the potential consequences of this change in wording though. Her complaint, recently echoed by Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia in the Western media, is that the law offers further loopholes to a police force already accused of over judicious behaviour with regards to policing civic rights campaigners. Claiming that the laws’ enabling of detention without charge, away from police stations and prisons, would slow “China’s progress toward civilization”, Lu Qing appealed against the malevolence of the bill by drawing on her own experiences; “It’s horrible not to know where your family is” and “a notice to the family members is the most basic right”. Meanwhile Hu Jia, in comparing the law to the worst of the former KGBs’ practices, stated that it “violates the minimum humanity of the suspect who is not yet convicted… and the innocent family members” and only makes legal what activists in China believe the police have been doing “illegally” since the “Jasmine Revolution” this year.

Ai Weiwei in hospital in Germany, recovering from brain swelling after a Police beating in China months before.

The concerns shown by some over this amendment, though largely ignored in China, have found airtime in the West, where coverage of Ai Weiwei, his contemporaries and Chinese human rights issues is attracting more attention. Pre-emptively perhaps, China Daily, weeks before the issue became major news in the West, responded to the ‘issues’ of the bill in a relatively even handed dissection of the issue on the 13th of September. The article, titled “Debate: Criminal Procedure Law”, featured three Chinese experts, all with differing opinions of the bill,  discussing the consequences of its enaction and the concerns of its  detractors.

The opening argument, by Wan Danhong, an associate professor of law at the China University of Political Science and Law, titled “A welcome move in the right direction”;  simply states that the further clarification and honing of the law can be only a good thing. Danhong argues against the belief that “secret arrests” will result from this legislation by reminding readers that only under the serious crimes of “endangering State security, or… terrorism” is it prosecutable. Instead, she argues that the law clarifies the position of the police in terms of publicising arrests and goes on to imply that this law will impede rather than encourage incorrect police actions in the future and that the amendment solidifies defendant rights with “the exceptions in two specific conditions”. Denhong concludes that this should definitely be seen as progress “in the transparency of laws and regulations” and that “misinterpretations of the clauses are not the best way(s) to analyze an amendment.”

The second opinion of the new amendments in the article comes from Zhang Benqiang, who was notably more cautious in naming his piece “Public must be protected from ill effects”. Benqiang begins by questioning assertions made from government sources and apologists about the harmless nature of the bill to Chinese civil liberties. In opening he states that “it is difficult to define severe crimes such as “endangering State security” in China and that, abuses of these designations have occurred before; notably in the case of Anhui Legal, a journalist detained for gathering information on ‘forced removals’, who was charged for “harming social security”. Following on from this Benqiang states that the “right to interpret” actions such as “endangering state security” will lie solely with the police and is a “farce” that could result in public apathy with the system. He also elaborates on the clause which allows for secrecy when “it is impossible to notify” families; wherein he states that the change in wording sounds like the bill is allowing authorities to withhold information when they “do not want to notify”, giving free reign in the implementation of secret arrests. In concluding Benqiang states that one result of the vague nature of the law will be that Chinese citizens will suspect police motives in its implementation and that they will not accept it as an “excuse to justify secret arrests”, if that is indeed its purpose.

The third opinion on the bill, from Zhang Yuzhe, titled “Vague clauses have to be clarified in detail” echoes Zhang Benqiangs’ point on the vagaries of the law and the negative consequences that its “loopholes” could have on the credibility of the Chinese justice system. Yuzhe does, however elaborate on some of the benefits of the amendments, not least the supposed enaction of legal protection against “self incrimination”: torture, which in 2011 seems less than timely. Yuzhe also makes pains to explain the history of the bill, putting the argument into perspective; “even the existing law allows police not to notify relatives… if they think doing so could impede an investigation”. As such Yuzhe implies that looking at the bill on its own makes the criticism seem overblown, especially considering the new draft does not create new laws, only expands old ones. Furthermore there certainly are situations, Yuzhe concedes; legally warranting “non notification” of the relatives of accused citizens, for the which, the application of this law seems valid. The author’s main thrust is still similar to that above however; whatever the case, the law should notify families and provide evidence in a timely manner after an arrest. Yuzhe stresses that the clause ‘impossible to notify’ ”provides too large (a) space for police discretion”; potentially allowing “secret arrests”; which will impede suspects rights and damage the credibility of legal system. Like Benqiang, Yuzhe also provides examples of what the new law change could encourage via the story of another journalist arrested in secret and only publicly charged (and his family notified) five days after intense local media coverage. Considering the law from this perspective, not from in a vacuum, worries surrounding the bill and police behaviour do seem valid, on this Benqiang concludes “the new draft…may create bigger loopholes that…undermine human rights”.

Despite the fact that it could break international law (forced disappearances are illegal) if used to silence “dissidents” and journalists, the passage of the new law through public consultation could proceed unchanged and could be a huge blow for artists and protesters like Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia. The more interesting facet of this story however is not so much the implications of the bill as the veracity of the China Daily debate on it; which has been uncharacteristically open-minded and fair in allowing for discussion of a politically sensitive issue. Whether this article’s even-handedness implies CPC uncertainty over whether the bill should be passed (they want to measure public reaction), is the result of strong journalistic pressure or is because of some other reason (only Wan Danhong’s ‘positive’ stance was “previously published”; it may have only been fully published in English) is difficult to say however. Regardless, considering China’s sordid history of “secret arrests” going back to the 1950’s, this law, if passed could very well herald the emergence in popularity of ‘KGB’ styled action against Chinese political expression and would be a very definite step away from the human rights goals that China argues it aspires to. In-fact, if this becomes the case, it would be very illegal and would put the current CPC caucus on par with that of the the cultural revolution era government for human rights abuses and misleading sentiments.

Communication is Inevitable

The PRC has recently experienced heightened instances of mass citizen unrest related to social inequalities, labor disputes and most recently, public safety and environmental concerns. As mass protests are a common occurrence in China, the seemingly constant discord has attracted international and local awareness which, despite government censorship efforts, continues to grow namely through microblogging sites. While the CCP consistently attempts to mask instances of unrest, such efforts are becoming progressively futile as communication control proves unfeasible.

The month of June saw several major mass disturbances between police and migrant workers, which received recognition from major international news outlets, yet lacked objective and complete coverage from the Chinese media. When a 3-day riot broke out after a pregnant street vendor was reportedly knocked to the ground by police, authorities downplayed the altercation, maintaining that the vendor “fell over” and understating the number of “troublemakers” at several hundred, though tens of thousands are said to have taken to the streets. Officials censored videos of the incident, writing it off as “just an ordinary clash between street vendors and local public security people, used by a handful of people who wanted to cause trouble”. Unfortunately, these clashes are indeed all too “ordinary” as reports of enraged migrant workers continue to rise. According to Sun Liping, a sociologist at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, China experienced 180,000 “mass incidents” in 2010, double the number in 2006.

A different kind of mass unrest surfaced when last month’s high speed train crash emphasized significant online government criticism, found primarily in blogs and public awareness campaigns which highlight issues otherwise concealed by the CCP. Microblogging sites beat out state media when they received firsthand information about the crash ahead of other news outlets. Despite heavy censorship, criticism of China’s railway officials, failed safety mechanisms and hasty rail construction swept the internet. Meanwhile, CCP authorities enacted a news blackout on the disaster, reporting only official government releases and positively-angled stories about the crash, such as the rescue of a toddler. According to The New York Times, official orders forced newspaper editors to tear up their Saturday editions, replacing investigative articles and commentaries with cartoons or unrelated features. Though the CCP tried in vain to keep the disaster under wraps, the cause was lost before it began; public outrage was widespread and attempts to cloak the incident only fueled resentments. The government may have truncated the issue in the mainstream media, but there was no way to hide the tens of millions of online posts questioning the crash.

Another exceptional demonstration took place in the city of Dalian this month when affluent residents called for the removal of the Fujia factory, a paraxylene plant located on the city’s coast. After learning that the potentially hazardous chemicals produced by the plant could endanger the entire city in the event of a disaster, disgruntled residents organized a sizable rally via social networks and mobile phones, despite increased censorship efforts. Thousands flooded the streets to voice their dissatisfaction. Though the government had already decided to move the factory prior to the protest, the turmoil apparently accelerated the process as the government promised to shut down the plant immediately. While public outcries from the lower rungs are commonplace, it is rare to see such a sizable demonstration from educated middle class citizens. The unusually prompt government response seen in Dalian seems to reinforce the notion that there is one rule for the urban rich and another for the rural poor in China. It may also indicate a sign of the Communist Party in retreat, though some discredit this belief, pointing out that civilians ultimately have no decision-making power; residents and netizens can protest, but they cannot propose.

Whether or not Chinese citizens are gaining significant ground in influencing government decision making, it is certain that public rallies have become easier to organize and harder to conceal. The CCP strives to keep the people of China in the dark, but this may soon become an unattainable goal as Chinese netizens continue to expand their horizons.

China-Tibet Anniversary

This month marks the 60th Anniversary of China’s controversial “peaceful liberation of Tibet”. Since the cultural revolution of the 1950’s and 60’s, the issue of Tibetan annexation has been fraught with political, historic and academic debate. In particular, the PRC strongly maintains that Chinese sovereignty over Tibet dates back to ancient times, bringing it into conflict with contradictory historical evidence maintained by Western academics. Accordingly, there is much conflict between Western and Chinese news media surrounding this historical landmark.

In the lead up to the anniversary, news media giant People’s Daily  pre-emptively released several articles which highlight China’s contributions and connections to Tibet’s culture and economy and denounce cultural ties claimed by the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Similarly, People’s Daily also portrays “pre-liberated” Tibet negatively, while stressing the impossibility of Tibet’s separation from China.

In a misspelled May 11th article entitled “Extinction of Tibetan Culture: Absoluate Fallacy”, People’s Daily accused the 14th Dalai Lama of perverting the truth and distorting history by linking Tibetan culture to India in calling himself “the son of India”.  It then goes on to accuse the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, of intentions toward “cultural secession and national cultural conflict”. In the same article, the PRC is praised as a cultural savior that overthrew a system which “retarded the overall development of Tibetan culture”.

The article, in accordance with another column released on May 12th, also claims that China has “collected and preserved a huge amount of Tibetan cultural relics.” However foreign estimates range between 200,000-1,000,000 Tibetans were killed along with approximately 6,000 monasteries destroyed during the period of the “Peaceful Revolution”. The article also casts a negative light on pre-annexed Tibet, portraying it is as a “feudal-serfdom”, though the accuracy of this depiction is also widely refuted. People’s Daily also cited PRC investment and generous state-sponsored assistance for Tibetans including “free food, lodging and tuition for children of Tibetan farmers and herdsmen”. However, it is uncertain as to how much aid is actually received by ethnic Tibetans. Tibetan exile groups claim that the PRC has flooded the region with migrants (up to 60% of the capital, Lhasa’s population are apparently Han Chinese) and that they receive the bulk of the government assistance.

Another May 13th article released by People’s Daily provides a pro-China breakdown of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet and a condemnation of Western forces involved in the conflict. The article repeatedly states the impossibility of Tibet’s separation from China and coins Tibet’s historical subordination to China as a well-known fact. People’s Daily blames ‘upper-class civilians’, the ‘Dalai Clique’ and ‘hostile Western forces’ for “starting armed rebellions”, stating that these groups “must feel uncomfortable seeing the prosperous development of all Chinese ethnic groups including Tibetans”. The column concludes with a confusing and long-winded first-person narrative; “If they still think it is possible to separate Tibet from China, they may continue to try as they have done in vain many times. However, I firmly believe they will end up like those who tried to sabotage the peaceful liberation or those who launched armed rebellions.”

In previous years the anniversary of Tibetan annexation was met with anti-Chinese flare ups amongst Tibetans and Western activists and this year’s noticeable slew of articles from People’s Daily seems intended to head off any similar conflict. Possibly because previous protests were met by strong shows of force that didn’t play well internationally. The PRC’s pre-emptive move adds little to the debate in terms of content, however. Beijing has consistently blamed unrest on the Dalai Lama and Western forces. Further, the citation of unverifiable reports and inflated statements on Tibetan living standards and cultural/religious freedoms in the Chinese press are becoming more and more common. Ultimately, the fact that the PRC still has strict travel restrictions on Tibet, especially for foreign journalists, means that the foreign media and Western-based activists will remain suspicious of PRC statements. This, when coupled with the fact that the Dalai Lama continually maintains that he seeks autonomy rather than separation for Tibet, implies that the issue will not go away until meaningful reconciliation can be made, both between the PRC and the Western media and Beijing and the exiled Tibetan leadership.