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Buying ‘Newsweek’?

Could Chinese Communists be the ones saving some of the cultural icons of American capitalism from extinction?....

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
May 19, 2010 3:58:00 am

Could Chinese Communists be the ones saving some of the cultural icons of American capitalism from extinction? That question is no longer facetious as Beijing debates the merits of buying Newsweek magazine,which has been put on the chopping block by The Washington Post company.

A spunky rival to Time magazine,Newsweek has been integral to the story of America’s rise to great power status during the 20th century and its dominance of the world affairs since World War-II. As American newspapers and network television wither under the onslaught of the new media,journals like Time and Newsweek have long fallen from their once exalted pedestal.

Meanwhile,it is a rising China that is investing heavily in building powerful global media entities. China has already positioned the Xinhua as one of the world’s top English news agencies. On July 1 this year,Beijing plans to launch its global English television channel to rival the BBC and CNN.

Could Newsweek complement China’s search for greater impact on the global flows of communication? Could the ownership of the weekly boost China’s soft power on the world stage? That indeed is the question being debated in Global Times,an English newspaper published by the People’s Daily,the official voice of the Chinese Communist Party. Writing in Global Times earlier this week,Bi Yantao,director of the communications research centre at the Hainan University laid out the case for China buying the American journal. He declares that China has the talent to run Newsweek on a thoroughly professional basis and make it profitable once again. Prof. Bi argues that “One can’t learn to swim on land. If China is going to improve its international influence,it needs to jump into the media pool.” Only by operating news outlets in foreign countries and reporting international affairs from a Chinese perspective can China master the battle of world opinion,” he concluded.

In the end,whether it buys Newsweek or not,there is no doubt that China is thinking big and bold about a global media strategy.

Arab forum

Much like its other regional initiatives from Africa to Central Asia and the South Pacific,China’s collective outreach to the Arab nations continues to gather steam.

Set up in January 2004 when the Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo,the China-Arab Forum has become the institutional basis for Beijing to deepen the partnership with the 22 members of the League. Bilateral trade between China and the League members has grown four times in the last seven years and touched US$ 110 billion in 2009 despite the worldwide economic downturn.

In his key note address to the fourth ministerial meeting of the forum in Tianjin last week,Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to further stabilise trade in oil,natural gas and related products,and increase the import of non-energy commodities and export of high-tech goods.

The only potential political discord between the leading Arab states and China is Beijing’s strong ties to Tehran. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among the Arab states that are strongly concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Nigerian oil

In a major offer to Nigeria last week,China has promised to build three oil refineries at the cost of nearly US$ 23 billion in return for access to six billion barrels of crude oil — nearly one-sixth of the estimated reserves in the African nation.

The prospective deal also includes a proposal to construct a petro-chemical plant to convert Nigeria’s huge untapped natural gas resources into high value products.

The building of the refineries should help end Nigeria’s economic and political discomfort over the fact that it imports refined petroleum products despite the fact that it is Africa’s largest exporter of oil. If the deal is clinched,Nigeria can claim a victory over the Western oil companies that have refused to build refineries in the country despite the repeated appeals from Lagos.

China’s policy of trading infrastructure investment for natural resources has been hugely successful in Africa,but Beijing has found it hard to replicate it in Nigeria. Similar Chinese proposals in 2005 and 2007 on boosting Nigeria’s refining capacity had run aground.

Having learnt from that experience, Beijing is expected to better navigate the turbulent waters of Nigerian decision-making at the highest political levels.

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