Why Hu Won’t Talk With the Foreign Press

In his decade long career as President and paramount leader of the PRC, Hu Jintao has yet to speak with the foreign media. He has been willing to answer questions in writing, as he did at length in January of 2011 to a series of questions submitted by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, an allowance that was lauded by China’s state media in English and Chinese. In a blog post for Foreign Policy, Isaac Stone Fish points out that Hu is unique amongst modern Chinese leaders in his avoidance of foreign journalists, and explains how Mike Wallace (RIP) might have scared him away:

Hu Jintao, China’s president for the last decade, is the first leader of China since the Empress Dowager Cixi (who died in 1908) to refuse to speak with foreign press. Chiang Kai-Shek gave interviews, Mao Zedong pontificated to Edgar Snow; Deng Xiaoping joked with foreign reporters while expounding on his pragmatic philosophy.  Even Hua Guofeng, Mao’s short-lived successor, chatted with a British journalist. China’s current premier Wen Jiabao has sat down with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria twice for a relatively gentle round of questioning but the top leader, and the other members of China’s ruling council the Politburo Standing Committee, have stayed silent.

More than any other reporter, Mike Wallace, the charmingly aggressive 60 Minutes correspondent who passed away this Saturday at the age of 93, may be the reason for Hu’s reticence. A sit-down with Wallace was rarely a pleasant experience for world leaders — particularly autocrats: he lectured Yassir Arafat on violence, challenged Vladmir Putin on democracy, and suggested to Ayatollah Khomeini that he might be a lunatic and a ‘disgrace to Islam.’ But his 2000 interview with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin may have played a role in convincing Jiang’s successor of the value of keeping his mouth shut[…]

April 9, 2012 6:30 PM
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