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2006 in Review: Money, Media Spotlight Best For Communists Countries

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As China Prepares for the Olympics, and as Vietnam Recently Learned By Hosting World Leaders: It is Difficult To Run Repressive Regimes With the World Watching

By John E. Carey
December 30, 2006

China has a long history of ignoring U.S. copyright law. In the 1970s I was able to purchase "pirated" books, very expensive Western text and reference books, for a few cents on the dollar in China.

When the film "Titanic" debuted in 1997, bootleg copies were available to eager buyers on the streets of Beijing the day after the movie's premier. The demand for bootleg copies was so extraordinary in China that video pirates were unable to keep up. The widespread distribution of the bootlegs (for $3.00 each), in this case, failed to discourage audiences from packing theaters to see it (for $6.00). One woman told a BBC reporter, "To watch this movie in the cinema gives you better audio and other quality, much better quality than pirated films."

Despite years of complaints from the United States and many copyright holders and trade organizations in the United States, the Communist governmenbt in China has almost always refused to enforce copyright laws by arresting bootleggers in China.

Until now.

With China preparing to host the Summer Olympics in 2008, the Communist government is doing everything in its power to at least look like a law abiding (and enforcing) Western-style government.

Yesterday, a Beijing court ordered the popular Chinese Web portal Sohu.com to pay $140,000 in damages for distributing Hollywood movies online without permission.

This is another in a series of "good news" and "law enforcement" stories that have been coming from the state controlled Chinese media for months.

On December 1, 2006, China announced a new set of regulations granting foreign journalists more freedom to report from within China.

The regulations will come into force on January 1, 2007, and expire on October 17, 2008, said a Xinhua report.

On December 27, 2006, China top publicity official Cai Wu said that if the freedom granted to foreign journalists ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games prove beneficial to its development, it might think of opening up to the foreign press even after the mega sports event ends.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Cai said "If the new regulations prove beneficial to our development and to exchanges between us and foreign media, and if they aid communication with the international community, then I imagine there will be no need to change the policy."

But, he pointed out these were his "personal views" and not a formal announcement.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam this year, the new government of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dũng, who came into office in June 2006, had two inter-related things at the top of its agenda: economic growth and obtaining entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) from the United States.

Vietnam achieved all its economic goals and then some in 2006, in part at least, because of a very skillful plan of media and perception management.

Vietnam eased up on its repressions of religions in 2006, allowing the Catholic Church's Pope in Rome appoint Bishops in Vietnam without the interference of the government of Vietnam for the first time since the Communists took over in 1975. This single commendable act may have been enough for the United States Department of State to take Vietnam off the list of nations that wrongly represses religious freedom.

Vietnam also had been planning to host the leaders of several nations, including President Bush from the United Sates and President Putin from Russia, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) in Ha Noi in November, 2006. To prepare for this event, the state controlled Communist media launch a "good news" campaign that lasted for more than six months prior to the APEC meetings. During that period, the world was showered with press releases from Vietnam extolling its new liberalism, its dedication to human rights, and the huge economic growth these reforms were allowing.

Also prior to APEC, Vietnam released several political prisoners, including Mrs. Cuc Foshee,an American citizen from Florida. Mrs. Foshee and others had been held for 14 mionths without charges or the benefit of other rights available to any prisoner in a nation that honors international law. When it became apparent that Mrs. Foshee and the other prisons could become an embarrassment to Vietnam during the APEC, the Communists speedily conducted a "trial" and, thankfully, sent Mrs, Foshee home to the U.S.

We reiterate these stories from Vietnam and China in 2006 for one simple reason: to remind all Americans that it is our nation's stand for human rights and human dignity that often proves a catalyst to the burgeoning good conduct of even the most vile regimes. The keys to persuading others to abide by normally accepted international norms are often found in trade, economic relationships, and good publicity (or the threat of bad publicity).

The American dollar and the American media can still cause, what the president calls "evil doers," to reverse course: or at least put up a nice veneer.

Mr. Carey has been an international analyst for more than thirty years. He is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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