An interview with Keith Bradsher

 

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://tyr.journalism.hkbu.edu.hk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Keith-Bradsher.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Keith Bradsher started reporting for the New York Times since 1989 and became the Hong Kong bureau chief in 2002. He has won awards for his coverage of clean enerygy in China and sport utility vehicles in the United States. He now covers primarily business and economic news in China and Asia.[/author_info] [/author]

 

What does the Hong Kong bureau of the New York Times do?

The New York Times bureau in Hong Kong is tiny:
a longtime local news assistant and me. In addition to serving as Hong Kong bureau chief, I carry a second title that is more indicative of my actual responsibilities: senior writer for Asian economics and business. My title as Hong Kong bureau chief only means that I am the most senior (actually, the only) foreign correspondent for the newspaper in Hong Kong, and should not be taken to mean that I focus primarily on Hong Kong news.

Until 2007, the bureau was responsible primarily for business and economics news in Asia but also for coverage of political news in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the 1990s, my predecessors mainly covered business and economic news in southeast Asia plus local events before, during and after the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. For many years, it was extremely difficult for anyone in Hong Kong to get a journalism visa to mainland China. That began to change in late 2002, shortly after my arrival in Hong Kong, and the beat began to shift toward covering the Chinese economy.

With growing international interest in China and in Asia in general, The New York Times has considerably expanded its coverage of the country and the region. We have expanded in Beijing from one correspondent to five, all of them covering political, diplomatic and cultural news for the foreign desk. The newspaper made a decision around 2007 that the small bureaus in Hong Kong and Shanghai (one correspondent apiece), would specialize mostly in business and economics news, reporting to the business news desk in New York, while the ever-expanding Beijing bureau would cover all other issues, reporting to the foreign desk.

The coincidental advent of direct flights between Beijing and Taiwan shortly afterwards resulted in the Beijing bureau's taking over most coverage of Taiwan.  In 2009, the newspaper opened its first bureau in Mumbai to cover business and economics news in south Asia, so I stopped making trips to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and became even more focused on the Chinese economy.

As for local news in Hong Kong, I still write some stories for the foreign desk, although foreign correspondents from the Beijing bureau come here as well. In addition, I work closely with a separate subsidiary of The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, which has its own staff of reporters and editors in Hong Kong who also cover the territory for the I.H.T. and for our shared web site, nytimes.com. While most other newspapers in the United States have closed their Hong Kong bureaus, The New York Times has retained a bureau here because this remains a great place to gather news about this part of the world.

Most readers of your newspaper are from the United States, what kinds of news in Hong Kong matter the most to them? 

American readers are most interested in news from Hong Kong that gives them an idea of the broader direction of Chinese politics and the Chinese economy. China has become a consuming interest for American readers, as the country has emerged as a political, economic and technological challenger to the post-Cold War dominance of the United States. Hong Kong is in some ways the canary in the coal mine in terms of broader trends in China, and it is also a superb place from which to track developments on the mainland.

At the same time, Hong Kong also has its own unique history, and what happens in Hong Kong is often unrepresentative of trends on the mainland.

How important is it for a newspaper to have foreign correspondents when it can simply buy news from the newswires? 

Newswires have traditionally not offered the depth of coverage that newspapers provide. But newswires and newspapers are to some extent converging, mainly because of the rise of the Internet. Newswires are providing more in-depth coverage than before. At the same time, newspapers are providing faster coverage of overseas developments through their web sites.

The New York Times also provides its articles to hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the world, so it is effectively one of the largest news wires as well as one of the largest newspapers.

It's been a decade since you became the chief Hong Kong correspondent for the the New York Times, what are the biggest changes in the media landscape? 

The continuous spread of the Internet, most recently to mobile applications, means that news is ever more readily available.

What are the biggest challenges of covering news in China? How do you cover subjects that are as secretive as Foxconn? 

Government officials in China give fewer interviews than their counterparts in most countries. Companies are sometimes easier to cover, as they have large numbers of employees, some of whom are always willing to talk.

Amid rising trade tension between China and the US, do you think the New York Times tends to cast China in a negative light? 

No, I don't think so. Many Americans are worried about job losses during the economic downturn that started in 2008, and a very large trade deficit with China has played a role in those job losses. So it is important to write about the subject with sensitivity to American fears. But The New York Times has also covered the considerable prosperity that these exports have helped to create in China. Moreover, The New York Times has written extensively about the many causes of economic troubles in the United States that have nothing to do with trade or China, including financial troubles, a low savings rate, uneven quality of education and more.

Part of the trade tensions reflects differences in public attitudes. The Chinese government and public have focused on trade as a path to job creation through exports. Americans have wanted the jobs but have also had a strong appetite for imports, like Lexus cars or European fashions.

On a couple occasions, I have asked audiences in China whether they believe that China would accept a reversal of trade ratios with the United States. Would China be willing to buy $4 of imports from the United States for each dollar of exports to the United States for many years, instead of the other way around? This would roughly reverse the trade situation that has prevailed for the past decade, and would allow the United States to repay much of its overseas debt to countries like China, contributing to much-needed global rebalancing. I have found scant enthusiasm in China, however, for such a reversal in the bilateral trade relationship, and it is unclear that such a large export-import imbalance is needed in any of the world's major bilateral trade relationships. But I continue to believe that free trade offers a path to greater global economic growth.

 

Reported by Alan Wong 

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