2012-11-15

Who's that Girl? Too Simple, Sometimes Naive, Always Willing?

Who's Andrea Yu? And Who's Behind Her?

- Why the Chinese politiburo accepted questions from Andrea... (The Guardian)

Foreign journalists covering China's party congress were surprised by the fact that one of their number was called to ask a question. That rarely, if ever, happens.

They were even more surprised when the young Australian correspondent, Andrea Yu, was invited to speak more than once in the Great Hall of the People. And eyebrows were also raised by the ordinariness of her questions.

Example: "Please tell us, what policies and plans the Chinese government will be implementing in cooperation with Australia?"

- Who is Andrea Yu? (ABC News, Australia)

Introducing herself as Andrea Yu from Global CAMG Media International based in Australia, she spoke in fluid Mandarin.

According to the company's website, CAMG is an emerging "media star" with media and cultural across the Asia Pacific region.

It was founded in Melbourne in September 2009, and says it has been committed to building "cross cultural bridges" with subsidiaries registered in New Zealand, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Nepal, among others.

By Ms Yu's own admission, few people have ever heard of CAMG.

Another little known fact is that its affiliated with state-run China Radio International, with the major shareholding in Beijing.

China uses mysterious Australian to rig Congress coverage (ABC News, Australia) (9-minute audio. Press "transcript" button to read)

Q: Is it a little disingenuous for you to be up here I suppose with the appearance of being an independent international journalist when really you're working for a Chinese company?

Yu: Yes, that's a good question. It is interesting, and a lot of people have asked me about that. The fact is, I chose to be employed by them, and I'm representing their company.

So when I ask questions in press conferences and anything like that, I'm representing the company as well as representing Australia.

Q: The company though, it's controlled from Beijing, right?

Yu: Ah, well we do have a head office in Melbourne, so...

Q: The majority shareholding is from Beijing - that's right, isn't it?

Yu: Ah, yes, yes that's true.

Q: And is that from the Chinese government, Chinese government companies?

Yu: We have a partnership with CRI, Chinese Radio International, which does have a fairly large connection to the government, yes.

Q: Because I mean you could say that it's as if the Chinese government has brought you up here as a sort of friendly journalist to essentially ask itself questions that it likes about its own performance.

Yu: Yes, you could say that, but you could only say that if you knew who my company was and we are fairly, I would say, not very well-known at this stage.

Q: Here's the Chinese government, they're inviting someone up here - they know that you're working essentially for them, and you're coming up here and asking them questions about their own performance. Isn't that right?

Yu: I really don't know if I can answer that question accurately, the way you're wanting me to answer it. I know you're looking for a certain answer here, but...

Q: I'm not looking for a certain answer, I'm looking for your answer.

Yu: No, my answer is that I think it's a very large system and I honestly don't believe that people within the Chinese government knew beforehand who I am and who I'm working for.

Q: They didn't know that you're essentially working for them?

Yu: No.

Q: Would it be an accurate parallel to say - for example, if the Australian government set up a company in China to feed stories into Chinese radio programs and then in the middle of the election in Australia, invited someone that they're essentially employing back to Australia to ask the Australian Prime Minister how well she's managing the China-Australia relationship - would that be an accurate parallel to what you're doing?

Yu: I don't know, because the Australian government is very different to the Chinese government. I don't think it's appropriate to make a direct comparison there, so...

Q: But is it real journalism, what you're doing?

Yu: Um, I've only just started. I'm very new to this, so I'm learning as I go.

Q: So you're not quite sure if it is?

Yu: Ah, no, I would call it - I wouldn't call it hard news, I wouldn't call it that, OK, I'm not going to be kidding myself there, but I'm very glad for the opportunity that I've had to come here and learn what I have.

Q: You don't feel though, potentially, that you're being used by the Chinese government to show that there's something going on that really isn't happening?

Yu: It's something that I think a lot of foreigners have to think about when they come here. It's also very difficult because...

Q: But what do you think about it though? Do you feel that you're being used in that way?

Yu: Well, it's been a bit difficult because there are layers. When I first entered my company, there's only a certain amount of understanding I have about its connections to the government. I didn't know it had any, for example.

So I find out more and more as time goes on. It's quite difficult as a foreigner, when you first, at least for me in the last month, to know exactly because you get told things not all at the beginning, so that side of it is challenging.

Q: Well maybe I could ask you this way - it's not a coincidence that they keep choosing you to ask questions at the press conferences, is it.

Yu: I don't think I would say that it's not a coincidence because they had already asked me the previous day.

Q: Because they know they're going to get an easy question from you, though, don't they?

Yu: I think that's part of it, yes.

Q: So in the long run, do you think that this will be more the way things will happen, that the Chinese government will be having sort of set up companies like yours all over the world to present itself in the way it wants to?

Yu: It's a very hard question and I don't know how long I'll be doing this for because of that. Yes, that it is a very challenging question. I think certainly spreading Chinese government soft power around the world via avenues like this is very important to the government and...

Q: And that's essentially what your company's doing, is that right?

Yu: Well, you see it's very difficult for me to say, because I'm still - I've been with my company for about a month, OK, so it's quite difficult for me to know exactly how things work. But I am aware that I can't ask the hard questions that I may personally be interested in asking because of who I'm representing.

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- A bit of background on "too simple, sometimes naive and reporters covering Chinese politics"

- 《时事追踪》:掀开爆红的澳大利亚女记者“提问姐”的面纱 (Radio Australia中文)