What if Xi Gave an Interview and No One Cared?

When newly crowned president Xi Jinping gave an interview to reporters from the five BRICS nations on Tuesday, some felt that the lonely highlight was his speculation about a possible heir to Paul the prophetic octopus at next year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil. Asked about relations with Russia ahead of his impending state visit, Xi offered a series of comments about historical friendship, booming trade and win-win cooperation, but no details on an anticipated energy deal or coordinated Sino-Russian response to American missile defense against North Korea. At Foreign Policy, Isaac Stone Fish commented on the interview’s muted reception, and on frustration over Beijing’s tightly controlled official press events.

The rare interview with one of the world’s most powerful men seems newsworthy, but besides a brief mention in the Christian Science Monitor, I couldn’t find any major Western news outlet that picked up on his remarks. Even English-language Chinese media outlets (see here, here, and here) focused their coverage on the fact that Xi Jinping was giving an interview to foreign media before his trip, not on the newsworthiness of anything he said during the meeting. The Chinese-language edition of China’s Foreign Ministry website and a few other Chinese news outlets were the only places where I found a full transcript of the interview, or anything even like it. After reading it, it’s not hard to see why.

[…] On Sunday, many of Beijing’s foreign correspondents attended a press conference held by Li Keqiang, China’s new prime minister. (The New York Times wasn’t invited.) Peter Ford, the Christian Science Monitor’s Beijing bureau chief, and the president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (an organization in which I was a board member in 2011) also attended. Ford writes in his newspaper that Li “seemed confident and relaxed, but like his predecessors, he answered only questions that journalists had submitted in advance, and that his press office had approved. At Chinese press conferences you learn which topics the government thinks are important and what message it wants to transmit to the citizenry from the questions that the authorities allow. But you don’t get much fresh information from the answers.”


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