There's a reason Australian "reporter" Andrea Yu is China's favorite foreign journalist. It's because they're using her to skew the Communist Party Congress coverage. First off, it's weird that any foreign journalist gets called on during the 18th Party Congress (which is more or less theatre). As The Wall Street Journal's Laurie Birkitt puts it, "Yet one foreign reporter covering China’s once-a-decade leadership transition appears to be able to buck the odds."
That's where Yu comes in. She's been called on four times (yes, that's a lot for a foreign journalist in China), and each time she's lobbed generous questions, such as this one: "[W]hat policies and measures will there be to support overseas Chinese media to publicize and promote Chinese culture, to propel Australian-Chinese cultural exchanges to the next level?" And you could kind of see why people with a lot of stuff to hide in a country that loves censorship and being in control of this image would like to call on her—Yu, according to Burkitt, says it's because she sits in the same spot and make seye contact.
Well, there's another reason China is cool with Yu too. Gleaning information from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Australia Broadcasting Corporation's Stephen McDonnell reports that Yu's company, CAMG Media Group, is actually majority-owned from China. And this: "CAMG has close links to Chinese government-controlled media organizations and supplies Beijing-friendly radio programmes to community stations in Australia," he writes. And it all starts to make even more sense why Yu is so popular—she's a plant. According to Burkitt, "her questions are pre-written by her Chinese colleagues and that she is not allowed to ask her own questions."
And that brings us to why this matters on an international scene. Think of Yu as one fragment or the beginnings of China's global PR strategy. McDonnell, who interviewed Yu, ended up in this brilliant exchange (brace your journalistic heart for this):
STEPHEN MCDONNELL: So in the long run, do you think that this will be more the way things will happen, that the Chinese government will be having sort of set up companies like yours all over the world to present itself in the way it wants to?
ANDREA YU: It's a very hard question and I don't know how long I'll be doing this for because of that. Yes, that it is a very challenging question. I think certainly spreading Chinese government soft power around the world via avenues like this is very important to the government and…
STEPHEN MCDONNELL: And that's essentially what your company's doing, is that right?
ANDREA YU: Well, you see it's very difficult for me to say, because I'm still — I've been with my company for about a month, OK, so it's quite difficult for me to know exactly how things work. But I am aware that I can't ask the hard questions that I may personally be interested in asking because of who I'm representing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.