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Pandemic Has Been Positive for Journalists and Newsrooms – FCC Panel

COVID-19 has caused widespread tragedy and turmoil, but a panel of journalists and media experts said that there have been upsides for journalists and newsrooms in the midst of the pandemic. In a Zoom event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and moderated by correspondent member and Clare Hollingowrth Fellow Jennifer Creery, the panelists shared their views on the shifts in the media landscape. 

The author of a weekly newsletter called Dari Mulut ke Mulut which focuses on Southeast Asia, Erin Cook said she started writing a newsletter as an alternative to more traditional methods of reaching an audience. 

“The newsletter was kind of a way to build my own entry-level steps,” said Cook. “Luckily 2016 was a deeply fascinating time for Southeast Asia, so that really helped build an audience that maybe would have been a bit harder to find.”

She said that switching to a paid subscription format on Substack had allowed her to do more of the work she wanted to do. 

“By going with a paid subscription [model], it means that I can really hone in on these stories that wouldn’t get a run anywhere else, and I can connect directly with the audiences that understand that and are looking for that sort of thing,” said Cook. “That’s definitely one of the advantages of going down the newsletter path rather than sticking with the traditional outlets.”

Tanmoy Goswami, who writes about mental health on Sanity by Tanmoy, first started writing a newsletter because the pandemic had forced the publication he was working for to shut down. He wanted to find another way to connect with his readers, so he started his newsletter in December 2020.

“Within 100 days, it became one of the top paid, health-related newsletters on Substack,” said Goswami.

Alan Soon, who started Splice Media to help drive the transformation of Asia’s media industry, said the pandemic has been good for media organizations in some ways.

“I think there’s going to be a net-positive outcome when all of this is said and done,” said Soon. I think the acceleration and pushing newsrooms to adopt new technologies and workflows has been really powerful.”

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of journalists have discovered new ways to engage audiences, and I think this is really a good thing.”

Watch the full discussion below:

Paranoia Drives China’s Approach to Foreign Policy – Journalist Joanna Chiu

In spite of China’s power and influence across the globe, its foreign policy is driven by paranoia and distrust, said Hong Kong-born journalist Joanna Chiu in a Zoom talk hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. 

The author of China Unbound: A New World Disorder, which details China’s rapid international rise and the ways Western nations have contributed to a state of global disorder, Chiu explained how her reporting revealed “paranoid rhetoric” and a tendency of United Front effort to focus on individuals and “no-names” who don’t pose a meaningful threat to the CCP. 

Asked to explain this paranoia, Chiu said it had everything to do with history. 

“That’s partly why I provide a lot of historical context, because I think to understand what Beijing’s doing, the great paranoia of Chinese leaders, it’s also important to understand the history of Western colonialism and imperialism in China,” said Chiu. “That’s a really important backdrop.”

She went on to explain that targeting individuals perhaps stemmed from the fact that past incidents such as the Taiping Rebellion had been started by ordinary people. She added that targeting overseas Chinese, who may not even identify with China in any meaningful way, reveals a paternalistic impulse of the CCP. 

In her book, Chiu examines the relationships between China and a number of Western countries including Turkey, Italy, Greece, Australia, Canada and the United States. She said all of these countries are experiencing increased tensions with China “where it’s no longer a war of words or diplomatic disputes — it’s in the economic sphere.”

Still, she said, she hoped her reporting helps to disprove a narrative that so-called middle powers have no negotiating power with regards to China.

“Western countries aren’t powerless”, said Chiu.

Watch the full discussion below:

Hong Kong Should Enact Article 23 As Soon As Possible – Senior Barrister Cheng Huan

In a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club during which he shared his thoughts and reflections on the 2020 National Security Law passed by the central government, senior barrister Cheng Huan said that Hong Kong has a legal obligation to enact its own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law as soon as possible. 

“My biggest disappointment is that, for 17 years after 2003, one administration after another, and especially the members of LegCo, consistently failed to carry out their constitutional duty according to the Basic Law by not enacting Article 23,” said Cheng. “Because they failed to do so, Hong Kong now has a National Security Law imposed from above. This should never have been necessary.”

He continued: “There was next to no input from Hong Kong as to how the 2020 law was to be enacted. The law’s contents did not pass through the legislative scrutiny that all local legislation must go through. I very much hope this mistake will never be repeated.”

He concluded with a warning: “If Hong Kong is again negligent of its duty, we should not be surprised if the central government again intervenes. It is essential that Hong Kong honors its duty under the Basic Law by implementing Article 23 as soon as possible.”

Earlier in the talk, Cheng said that all countries have laws to protect themselves and that each one strikes its own balance between security and freedom. 

“The severity of security laws ranges wide from jurisdiction to another, but laymen are often surprised to discover how onerous and oppressive they can be, even when created by liberal Western democracies,” said Cheng. “Even in the United Kingdom, extremely harsh security laws have been used, most notably in Northern Ireland during the 30 years of civil disorder there known as the Troubles.”

Cheng also shared his thoughts on the role that the FCC itself plays in Hong Kong society, as evidenced by his invitation to speak at the club. 

“The FCC is a broad church practicing democracy and tolerance of all shades of opinion. It preaches what it believes — freedom of speech — and even the freedom to hold different opinions.”

Watch the full discussion below:

Eating Seafood Is Just As Bad for the Planet As Eating Meat – Green Monday CEO David Yeung

The role raising livestock for meat consumption plays in increasing greenhouse gas emissions is well known, but as Green Monday CEO David Yeung explained in a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, eating seafood should be considered equally bad. 

“There is a gigantic piece of the puzzle that is missing, that is not talked about and public awareness is extremely low, and it’s about the ocean,” said Yeung, who’s behind a line of vegan meat alternatives called OmniFoods.  

He shared data showing that fishing has increased by 900% over the last 70 years, a trajectory that he called “utterly unsustainable.” 

“The way we fish nowadays is, we just wipe out the ocean,” said Yeung. “There’s something called bottom trawling, in which they basically pull giant, enormous nets just off the ground of the ocean and basically take anything out from the sea, and that just kills the entire marine ecosystem.” 

He explained that more than 25% of carbon dioxide levels are offset by the ocean, which in turn releases 50 to 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe. 

“By absolutely devastating the entire marine ecosystem, we are driving our ocean to death, which means it loses its capability to offset carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and of course produce healthy, sustainable seafood for us to consume.”

Watch the full discussion below:

Obituary: A Toast to Ian Verchere

By Philip Bowring

Ian Verchere, who died on 17 July in England aged 83, was one of the most agreeable and versatile journalists I have known. A restless enthusiasm and a wide variety of intellectual interests took him to many places, but he started out in Hong Kong doing his national service in the army in the late 1950s which led to his first job as a sports reporter on the South China Morning Post. Then it was off to La Sorbonne in Paris for two years to perfect his French, which led to a job as tour manager for Thomas Cook and a great deal of travel around Europe; he also spoke passable Spanish having studied in Barcelona.

The travel bug and journalism merged when the travel trade’s premier journal, Travel Trade Gazette, hired him. Ian then became the editor of Asia Travel Trade (ATT) following a chance meeting at a Singapore travel conference in 1972 with the publisher, bringing him back to Hong Kong. I arrived in the then-colony the following year and we quickly became friends. When he hired Murray Bailey to join him at ATT, Ian persuaded me to let Murray share my flat.

Ian was by then editing Insight, a monthly business-focused magazine which was, at least for a while, a journalistic success even if not a commercial one. Its in-depth look at business was a first for English-language monthly journalism in 1970s Hong Kong, a period that saw a great flowering of regional journalism with the launch of Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek and the Asian Wall Street Journal, among others. ATT and Insight gave him great opportunities to travel in the region and satisfy his wide and ever-growing interests.

From the May 1979 issue of The Correspondent magazine.

While living in Stanley, Ian also took up sailing a Hobie – a small catamaran which he launched off the beach at To Tei Wan. I was also living in Stanley, and also had a dinghy which I kept on the main beach, so I saw Ian quite often – though we did not make a habit of visiting the Smugglers Inn, then strictly for the squaddies from Stanley Fort.

In 1979 Bank of America lured Ian away from journalism with a job in Tokyo as vice president of corporate communications. He worked there for five years, then moved to New York. But journalism remained his first love and he eventually returned to London, working for Janes’ aviation magazines, the Economist Intelligence Unit and The European newspaper (which made a valiant but failed effort (1990-1998) to persuade English-language readers to learn more about what was happening in Europe). He also freelanced for numerous national dailies.

Ian went on do much sailing and travelling in Europe, the Caribbean, the US and across to Fiji. His adventures in Fiji led to a semi-autobiographical novel, Mugged in Tahiti, a tale of fun and games in the South Pacific. He also wrote Sailing into American History, a journey along the east coast’s Intracoastal Waterway which shed light on the early decades of the US.

The avid traveller was also very much at home in Buckinghamshire where I last saw him for lunch at a pub on the Grand Union canal. A memorial service was held at St Mary the Virgin, Ivinghoe, on 10 August 2021, followed by drinks at The Old Swan in Cheddington. I drank a toast to his memory at the Smugglers Inn.

Author Mark O’Neill on the Secret History of Chiang Kai-shek’s Russian Daughter-in-Law

In China’s Russian Princess: The Silent Wife of Chiang Ching-kuo, author Mark O’Neill tells the extraordinary and largely unknown story of how a factory worker named Faina Ipat’evna Vakhreva ended up married to the son of Chiang Kai-shek.

O’Neill lived in Taiwan from 1981 to 1983, when the island was still under martial law, and Chian Ching-kuo was president at the time. O’Neill said that his wife was never seen in public or on television, and little seemed to be known about her, which is what inspired him to research and write this book.

In a presentation at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, O’Neill recounted how Chiang and Vakhreva met while they were working, most unexpectedly, at the same heavy machinery plant in Yekaterinburg. She was born in Orsha in 1916 and fled war to the more favorably located Yekaterinburg. Chiang, meanwhile, had asked his father, Chiang Kai-shek, if he could study at Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow, where he excelled at learning Russian and drinking and dancing, among other things. 

After graduating, he attended a military academy in Leningrad, after which Stalin would not permit him to return to China, effectively holding him hostage in the Soviet Union. Chiang was exiled to a communal farm, then a labor camp, and finally Uralmash, the heavy machinery plant where he met his future wife. 

The couple did eventually leave for China, where they endured World War II and civil war before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949. It’s an altogether fascinating story, one worth diving into for all the dramatic details.

Watch the full event below:

China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomacy Has Changed During the Pandemic – Journalist Peter Martin

China’s so-called ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy is not a new phenomenon but it has taken on a new dimension over the course of the pandemic, said Bloomberg reporter Peter Martin in a Zoom talk hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong. 

“Some of China’s strengths have been highlighted; its ability to use its supply chains to produce massive amounts of vaccine and personal protective equipment, and to ship those around the world, kind of plays to a strength of the Chinese system,” said Martin. “But it’s paired with this insistence that once that aid is received, countries must be publicly grateful to Beijing and they should keep quiet about issues over which they might disagree.”

Martin, the author of China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy, also discussed the origins of the Wolf Warrior ethos within the Communist Party, stemming from the inception of the party.

He explained that China’s first foreign minister, Zhou Enlai, “came up with the idea that Chinese diplomats should think and act like the People’s Liberation Army in civilian clothing, which meant of course that they would be unfailingly loyal to the Communist Party, they would show extraordinary discipline following orders and they would also develop what he called a ‘fighting spirit’ when China’s interests were challenged.”

Martin offered an overview of how China implemented this ethos in its foreign policy during its rise to power as the world’s second-largest economy, detailing a pivot from low-profile and conciliatory foreign diplomacy toward a more combative, defensive and provocative stance in recent years.

He said that the Wolf Warrior approach really gained momentum in 2017: “When China’s economy was stronger and larger than it had ever been, Xi Jinping was pushing the Belt and Road Initiative around the world, [China] opened a military base in Djibouti and was militarizing islands in the South China Sea.”

Watch the full discussion below:

Remembering Jonathan Mirsky

By Stephen Vines

Jonathan Mirsky was never a conventional journalist, nor conventional anything else. He died in London in September at the age of 88. 

For many years he was among the best known China watchers in the hacking business and won the British Press Awards International Reporter of the Year title in 1989 for his Tiananmen massacre coverage in The Observer

In Beijing he was “rewarded” with a savage beating at the hands of the police while covering the protests.

He later moved to The Times and was based in Hong Kong from 1993 to 1998. Towards the end, Mirsky fell out with the paper’s increasingly accommodating attitude towards Beijing ordered by owner Rupert Murdoch, who had big ambitions for expanding business in China.

Mirsky became a familiar figure at the FCC, where a lack of alcoholic consumption and an enthusiasm for discussion – not forgetting an impressive stock of Jewish jokes – marked him out as a not so run-of-the-mill member.

Mirsky, or Minsky as I called him after he was mistakenly identified as such by aristocratic Times Editor William Rees-Mogg, came to journalism through the circuitous route of academia and never quite lost his affection for the long form preferred in universities.

I got to know him back in the 1980s when we were both working for The Observer in London. He was an eccentric character in a newsroom where eccentricity was the norm. At the time I was engaged in the hard-edged area of labour reporting, while Mirsky was pontificating on China from afar. 

Infuriatingly to us hacks who thought that the only kind of reporting that mattered came from on-the-spot observation, he managed to produce superb and highly readable analysis which often outdid the work of Beijing-based correspondents.

When we were later both based in Hong Kong, we occasionally joined forces for interviews. It was an exasperating experience as Mirsky liked to be discursive and, with his genuine interest for people and what made them tick, would spend a great deal of time talking to the interviewees about their lives, while I was impatient to extract the news line of the day.

The Mirsky method often worked far better than the more conventional news-gathering approach, and he made firm friends with many of the people he interviewed. Among them were the Dalai Lama, who wrote to him shortly before his death, and Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last Governor – a combination of friendships likely to confirm the worst misgivings of an ever-suspicious government in Beijing.

Mirsky came from an aggressively secular intellectual leftist New York Jewish family and quickly graduated towards left-wing politics both as a student and an academic. It was this leftism that led him to become one of the early visitors to China in 1972 when the regime was keen to cultivate fellow travellers.

It would however be inaccurate to describe Mirsky as an apologist for the regime, because a sharp eye for the reality of Mao’s China and an uncontainable independence of mind defied such a simple characterisation.

In later years, most especially after Tiananmen, he became a prominent critic and was banned from entering the PRC. To describe Mirsky as being somehow “anti-China” would be a gross misconception because he had a deep love of all things Chinese and almost certainly a deeper knowledge of China’s culture and history than many of the most avid “patriots” who flaunt their love of the nation these days.

Above all Jonathan Mirsky was a mensch. It’s a Yiddish term that covers everything from friendship to humour to kindness yet is still inadequate to convey the true nature of the man.

“The implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ was never expected to be painless” – Regina Ip

Offering an overview of the relationship between China and Hong Kong, longtime public servant and politician Regina Ip, a member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council, said that tensions between the mainland and the SAR were natural and to be expected. 

“The implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ was never expected to be painless and trouble-free,” said Ip during a lunchtime talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. “It is a bold and innovative concept, but the accommodation of a small but radically different system within a large, continental-size economy, is bound to be fraught with tensions and challenges.”

Describing One Country, Two Systems as “a reunification project,” she offered a firsthand account of being present at the negotiations between Britain and China that preceded the Joint Declaration. She also reflected on her time as the Secretary for Security, when she was responsible for implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, which led to widespread protests.

“It is really a great pity that my draft bill did not get enacted,” said Ip. “If it got enacted, it would not have been necessary for Beijing to do it for Hong Kong. I experienced firsthand how a legitimate constitutional requirement to protect national security was scuttled at that time because of widespread misunderstanding of our constitutional responsibility.”

Speaking about the National Security Law enacted in 2020, Ip was quick to defend it. 

“The implementation of the National Security Law is bound to impose certain new limits on Hong Kong people’s freedoms, but this trade-off between security and freedom is a universal phenomenon,” said Ip. “Hong Kong’s National Security Law remains much milder and more restrained than similar legislation in many other jurisdictions.”

She continued: “Our judiciary remains independent in reaching judicial decisions, and robust in upholding legal principles.”

Asked to comment on freedom of speech under the National Security Law, Ip did not seem concerned. 

“I think the freedom of speech — although some people are naturally a bit concerned whether what they say, what they do, what they write could infringe the National Security Law — I think the freedom of expression is still alive and well. I mean, [the FCC is] carrying on business as usual,” said Ip. “I think the concerns are understandable but I don’t think there is any really undue suppression of the expression of freedom in Hong Kong.”

As for Hong Kong’s future, Ip was wholeheartedly optimistic: “Our economic integration with the GBA will bring unprecedented opportunities to the people of Hong Kong.”

In conclusion, she said, “My personal opinion is that the future of Hong Kong cannot be brighter.”

Watch the full event below:

Author Michael Schuman Explains How Chinese History Affects Present-Day Policy

While some Western governments may look at China’s rise with anxiety and some with awe, many Chinese see their country’s growing prominence on the global stage as a return to a natural state of affairs. In his insightful historical survey Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, journalist and author Michael Schuman examines how the Chinese view their past and their place in the world—and how that affects their present policies and ambitions.

In a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club moderated by FCC President Keith Richburg, Schuman said that his own experience of learning history had inspired the book.

“We are, I think, all in part shaped by our history and, more importantly, how we learn our history and how we perceive our history, or in some cases, misperceive our history,” said Schuman. 

“This creates a certain worldview — how we see ourselves, how we see other countries, and how we see that they fit into the greater world — and my sense of what’s going on now as we seem to be heading unfortunately into a new period of superpower competition, is that you can see these different worldviews playing a role in this unfolding and unfortunate competition.”

Watch the full event below:

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