China says it will relax restrictions on foreign reporters ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held in Beijing. But Roger Wilkison reports from the Chinese capital that it is not clear how long the new regulations will remain in effect.
Foreign reporters based in China have traditionally had to get permission from local government offices to travel outside their home base, to interview officials or to report on social unrest.
When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics, media freedom groups protested such controls, saying they were incompatible with the spirit of the games.
Now, China has modified the rules, and according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao all a foreign reporter will have to do, starting January 1, is secure the consent of the person he wants to interview.
"When you travel, you enjoy the same rights as all foreign nationals in China," he said. "When you interview a person or a company, you do not have to apply to the local foreign affairs office for permission, and they don't have the responsibility of asking, 'What are you doing here?'"
As Liu was speaking to reporters, China's official Xinhua news agency released a decree signed by Premier Wen Jiabao, spelling out the new rules for foreign journalists. There are still restrictions. Journalists wanting to travel to sensitive areas or who run across situations of social unrest will be submitted to unspecified controls.
In China, says Liu, rules are rules and must be obeyed by everybody, foreigner or Chinese.
"I hope that each reporter will cooperate with us effectively," he said. "These rules should be followed by everyone, whether they are foreign journalists or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We all need to have respect for the rules."
Although the new, looser regulations are going into effect more than a year and a half before the Olympics begin, it is not clear whether China will revert to the old rules once the games are over.