But articles written by Li, who previously served as China’s deputy propaganda minister for six years, suggest a different story. In a February 2009 piece outlining goals for Xinhua and Chinese media, Li called for new areas, channels and methods of interaction and cooperation with the outside world.
“[We] especially need to, according to central leader comrades’ request, successfully hold the first meeting of the World Media Summit,” he wrote, showing that the WMS was originally created at the top levels of the CCP.
There is little English-language information available online about the WMS, aside from Xinhua’s special WMS section and the official WMS website, which, according to a Whois search, is registered to Xinhua. Additionally, the “brief introduction” page on the Chinese-language side of the WMS site states that the summit is an “unofficial, non-profit, high-level meeting”.
In China, such organizations, if registered, require an official government sponsor—presumably Xinhua in this case. In such relationships, sponsors tend to wield substantial power over their nonprofit patrons. From the little information publicly available about the WMS, it would seem that the summit is subordinate to Xinhua, and, by extension, China’s top leaders.
The first few WMS meetings attracted little notice. In 2009 Hu Jintao presided over the opening of the first World Media Summit at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The first presidium meeting took place in Beijing in 2011, and in 2012 Moscow hosted the WMS’ second general meeting. The meetings accomplished little of note, despite Xinhua’s assertions to the contrary. But this month’s WMS presidium meeting in Hangzhou was newsworthy, for two reasons.
First, the presidium announced that the New York Times would host next year’s WMS general meeting and that Al Jazeera would follow suit in 2016. Additionally, the presidium announced that the WMS would create “global prizes for journalism to recognize outstanding journalists around the world.”
Other than Xinhua, the only English-language publication to note these developments was The Hindu, a newspaper owned by presidium member Kasturi & Sons. Its report on the meeting described an “outreach” to the Chinese government by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, who also announced the launch of a Chinese-language web version of T Magazine. The website, which focuses on design, fashion, dining, travel, education and real estate, steers clear of politics.
Sulzberger surely wasn’t the only presidium representative looking to expand his company’s presence in the lucrative Chinese market. These media companies—many of which have been vilified by Beijing in the past—all have something to gain from a healthy relationship with China’s leaders. At one point or another, Google, the BBC, CNN and the New York Times’ websites have been blocked in China. Additionally, reporters from the Times and Al Jazeera have effectively been expelled from the mainland when authorities refused to grant them journalist visas. In spite of these incidents, these media groups may believe that participation in the WMS might enable them to keep an open channel with Beijing and prevent future problems with their China operations.