Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 4 News List

China quiet on shooting

GAG ORDER The Chinese Communist Party has characteristically gagged the nation's media outlets and Internet sites in reaction to the assassination bid

AP AND REUTERS , BEIJING

China's entirely state-run media waited more than six hours to inform the Chinese public yesterday about the shooting of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮)

A two-sentence report by the official Xinhua News Agency said Chen and Lu had been wounded in the attack at a campaign event. It said Taiwanese authorities were investigating and gave no other details.

The report, carried on Chinese Web sites, didn't use Chen's or Lu's official titles, reflecting Beijing's insistence that Taiwan's popularly elected government is illegal.

Earlier, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could not comment because Taiwan issues were handled by the Cabinet's Office of Taiwan Affairs. That office also declined to comment.

The Communist Party had issued a gag order to the media, a Chinese Web site editor said, and some five hours after the shooting there had been no official reaction.

An editor at Sina.com said the Web site had been instructed not to report the shooting. He declined to say which authority.

"All Chinese media will act as a whole, so as not to give Chen Shui-bian an excuse," he said.

Another Chinese journalist had not seen a gag order but said a complete news blackout would not be possible without one.

China's media gag on Taiwan's elections had even extended to personal online journals known as "blogs."

"Please follow the government's policy on the Taiwan referendum and refrain from making aggressive statements," said a pop-up advertisement on the popular China Blogger site.

Even before yesterday, the Chinese media was on a tight leash regarding the election.

"The atmosphere surrounding the event is very sensitive. It's not just this specific incident," said one magazine editor, adding that there were standing rules on Hong Kong and Taiwan reporting.

"With the referendum tomor-row, this period is the most sensitive," he said.

One Chinese Web site apparently blocked commentary and a CNN broadcast on the assault was blacked out.

"I'm not surprised. We don't like him very much on the mainland," Li Feng, a Beijing office worker, said when told of the news late yesterday afternoon.

"He keeps trying for independence, and it's been causing relations between the two sides to be very bad," Li said.

China often is slow to react to international events, especially those involving Taiwan. After Chen's surprise victory in the 2000 election, Beijing waited several days before issuing a statement.

But the silence appeared to be one of both omission and commission. Though CNN coverage of the shooting from a satellite available in China's foreign compounds and upmarket hotels was broadcast for hours, at least one segment on Taiwan was blacked out for at least a minute.

Chinese government officials and the state-controlled media have long employed inflammatory language against Chen, calling him everything from a joke to a traitor to his own people. In 2002, an editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's newspaper, said of Chen: ``In desperation, he takes a risk on the happiness of 23 million Taiwanese just for political self-interest. He will pay a terrible price for this gambler's act.''

In recent days, however, China has lowered the linguistic flame. Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), in a yearly news conference last Sunday, didn't mention Chen by name.

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