Follow Xinhua, People’s Daily…and Batson?

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It’s no surprise that the censors flagged the pending off-limits to scrutiny during this year’s legislative session – not after an ideological rumpus helped derail its passage last year. The vast majority of mainstream news outlets have obliged, taking cues from the constructive official line. The one major magazine to strike out on its own, Caijing, was forced to abort its planned cover preview; it published four days late as a result. Then there’s Southern People Weekly (ÂçóÊñπ‰∫∫Áâ©Âë®Âàä), the popular Guangzhou-based magazine, which took an altogether different angle on the law: Andrew Batson’s.

Batson is a correspondent with The Wall Street Journal in Beijing. In last week’s issue of Southern People Weekly, he is credited with a succinct curtain-raiser on the property law and other legislation on the NPC docket. In fact, he only found out about his piece (pictured) several days after it came out. Your correspondent, a long-time homey of his, told him.


Turns out the article in the magazine (reproduced below) is a stripped-down translation of the one Batson published several days beforehand, in The Asian Wall Street Journal. Presented as a “viewpoint,” it carries Batson’s byline at the bottom but no mention of his newspaper. It’s thus made to look like an original submission. SPW seems to have borrowed the translation published by Dow Jones’s own Chinese-language service, cut it heavily, and then pasted it back together. Gone is Batson’s discussion of senior leaders’ aims and policymakers’ conflicts of interests vis a vis the drafted laws, though mention of dissent both from lefties and from liberals remains. For example, Batson writes:

The property-rights law will be a symbolic milestone for the nominally communist nation, even though it falls far short of what more liberal reformers had initially advocated.

In Southern People Weekly, the sentence is translated:

The property-rights law will be a symbolic milestone, even though it falls far short of what more liberal reformers had initially advocated.

Of course, many a member of China’s foreign press corps has spotted a story of his or hers reprinted locally over the years, without due credit or copyrighting. But the difficult straits surrounding this subject left us particularly curious about the Batson piece. That and the fact it’s published within an issue of the magazine devoted to Consumer Rights Protection Day, March 15. The running theme throughout is “Why Aren’t Chinese Angry?” and the contents comprise 50 accounts of commercial scams and endangerment. So here’s looking at #51, eh?

Somewhat angered and hoping for clarification, Biganzi called the editorial offices of Southern People Weekly in Guangzhou. The editor on the other end of the line was a congenial, native Mandarin-speaking fellow surnamed Rao. Biganzi asked him for a full explanation. He couldn’t really furnish one. An excerpt from our exchange follows:

Biganzi: I just wanted to ask about your piece on the property law in last week’s edition.

SPW: What do you mean? We didn’t cover the property law. We can’t really, not before it passes. But we’re working on a feature right now…

Biganzi: No, no. In the issue with Fang Lijun’s painting on the cover. The “viewpoint” near the front…

SPW: Let me see [sound of flipping pages]…Oh, that.

Biganzi: It’s written by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal. So did you ask permission from writer or the newspaper?

SPW: I’m really not sure. You’d have to ask the editor in charge of this page. Can I have him call you back?

Biganzi: But why would you use this piece in the first place?

SPW: The authorities won’t allow us to do our own kind of reporting anyway until after the law is passed. Before that we essentially have to go according to the Xinhua [News Agency] file.

Biganzi: Then why run a foreign reporter’s?

SPW: Well, it’s not our reporting.

Biganzi: Yeah, but it’s not Xinhua’s either. It looks like it is your reporting.

SPW: So you’re calling to ask about copyright infringement?

Biganzi: I just want to know why you ran what you ran.

SPW: Are you a reporter or an editor?

Biganzi: A reporter. What’s the difference? And why print the author’s name but not the organization?

SPW: We generally give the source of whatever we print. But maybe the editor overlooked it…

Biganzi: But I still don’t understand why you ran this.

SPW: It’s an important issue. Authorities demanded we handle the property law in a low-key manner. They don’t want any excessive criticism that will heat up the debate, so we had to be low-key…But I’m not clear what happened. How about I take your number and have the editor who worked on call you back. What’s your phone number?

We’re still waiting to hear back.

SPW’s weekly offerings online are limited, and the article in question is not among them. Fortunately, rather than going through the trouble of typing it out, we’ve managed to assemble a copy using the AWSJ translation — just as SPW apparently did:

当中国最高立法机构全国人民代表大会下周一召开年会时, 将审议两部重要的经济立法,并很有可能批准通过。其中一部法律将使中国在保护私有产权方面的力度和周详程度达到前所未有的水平;另一部法律将统一内、外资企业的税率。

《物权法》的通过将具有里程碑式的意义,尽管这部法律与自由派改革家们的初衷仍相距甚远。许多中国人目前都拥有自己的住房和企业,但对于财产所有权和财产处置权至今仍缺乏明确的法律界定。经过1988年以来的几次修宪,中国的宪法目前已笼统承认了私有财产权。但对于具体个案的解决,比如政府征地引发的问题,原有的法律则显得捉襟见肘。

这部法律在制定过程中一直争议不断:《物权法》草案尤其受到了左派学者的声讨,他们担心这将为国有企业加速私有化铺平道路,并会加大贫富差距。正是由于这些批评,原本安排在去年的全国人大年会上表决的《物权法》最后被撤出了人大会议的审议议程。

而对于在华经营的外资企业来说,新的《企业所得税法》将使它们与中国本土企业处于同一起跑线上,这部法律实施后中国以往给予外资企业的大部分税收优惠措施将逐步取消。

全国人大此次会议还将审议其他几部重要法律,这些有望在今年晚些时候通过的法律包括中国第一部反垄断法,以及使雇员在与雇主进行劳动合同谈判时能拥有更大话语权的《劳动合同法》。

反垄断法的制定工作尽管已进行了十几年,但由于各政府部门无法达成一致意见而迟迟未能完成。很多人寄希望于用这部法律打破中国经济中仍存在的封闭领域.

北京大学的反垄断法专家盛杰民说,中国正在一步步沿着市场经济的道路前进。他说,在中国加入世界贸易组织(WTO)后,政府不得不重新修订许多法律,还有一些必不可少的法规也将陆续制定。

而这些新出台的法规将促使中国转向依赖法律手段而非单纯依靠行政命令来管理经济。(Andrew Batson)

March 13, 2007, 6:28 AM