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Western television airs debate show from China for 1st time
SHANGHAI, March 11 (Xinhuanet) -- The BBC Television Question Time broadcast a special edition from Shanghai Friday morning, the first time China has allowed foreign media to focus on sensitive topics on television.

    The airing of the program proves that as China continues its policies of reform and opening up to the outside world, open political discussion is now sometimes possible -- though, in this case, in English and for foreign audiences.

    Five invited guests and more than 180 audience members, most of whom were selected by the BBC from among more than 400 applications submitted via the Internet, discussed Hong Kong's general election, HK Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa's resignation, China's formulation of the Anti-Secession Law by the National People's Congress, human rights disputes between China and the United States and whether China's economy would surpass that of the United States within 20 years.

    "It's a breakthrough. To have a program from China with known critics of the Chinese Government on the panel is something I never thought would happen," David Dimbleby, the program's host, told reporters.

    "China's media is one of the last sectors which is still highly state controlled. However, in following WTO and establishing market economy, it too will open up," said Laurence J. Brahm, an American political economist who has been living in China for more than 20 years.

    "The fact that they are allowing a foreign broadcaster like BBC to produce what can be seen highly sensitive political debate program is already a step in this direction," he said.

    China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao and former Hong Kong Governor and EU Commissioner Chris Patten took part in the program. Also on the five-member panel are General Secretary of the Boao Forum Long Yongtu who was China's chief representative innegotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Hong Kong designer and businessman David Tang, and British writer Isabel Hilton.

    Ric Bailey, executive editor of Question Time, said that the program has received support from the Chinese government, the Foreign Ministry and Shanghai Television.

    He explained to the Chinese in advance that the program is madefor British people and will not intentionally please China. The Chinese authority approved the application in "a handsome way" without any condition, he said.

    The program was produced in Shanghai about eight and an half hours before broadcasting. Participants battled in words on various subjects, of which human rights issue won the longest debate time.

    Most of them believed that China's human rights situation has improved.

    "We shall not forget that the economic achievements made in thepast 20 years are not made by unhappy people," said Xin Yi, who works with Winterhur Insurance (Asia) Ltd. Shanghai Branch.

    Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong when it was still under British rule, said, "We damage the course of universal respect for human rights in western countries when we try to practice a double standard. We need to be consistent," the former Hong Kong governor said.

    Patten also said that China has "far more" freedom than it oncedid.

    The issue that most unified audience opinion was the Anti-Secession Law. Several audience members expressed their view that China was correct in safeguarding the reunification of the countryand opposing Taiwan independence. They were endorsed by other audience with applause.

    One hour is of course far too short to discuss all China's political issues. Still, Dimbleby said this episode of Question Time was as good as those produced in Britain.

    This western-styled TV debate is quite new to Chinese. Xin Yi said after the program that she had never before seen such an intense crossfire of opinions on China on a single occasion.

    Liu Jianchao saw this as a good channel to express Chinese viewpoints to westerners. He thought the topics, which were not sensitive, were realistic and worth discussion.

    "The Chinese government welcomes all that is conducive to the exchange between China and other countries," he said.

    Some doubted the representativeness of the audience because themain standard for selection was fluency in English.

    Question Time, founded in 1979, is one of the most popular political debate programs in Britain. It was only produced five times outside of Britain before the Shanghai show -- three times in the United States, once in Australia and once in the Middle East.

    As part of BBC News' China Week, this edition of Question Time was described as "a landmark political debate" by the BBC Website.

    Starting March 7, BBC broadcast "China Week" -- a series of reports on China's economy, social changes and influence on the rest of the world.

    "We find out what China's emergence as a major economic power might mean for the world," the Website says.

    "China is news," said Philip Harding, director of the English Networks and News of BBC World Service who proposed the idea of China Week. "That's why we're here." Enditem

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