China under the Herald spotlight

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The Herald has a long and proud history of foreign affairs coverage and has always encouraged fearless and independent reporting from the corners of the world that our readers are the most engaged with.

Over the years, we have had reporters stationed in Washington, New York, Hong Kong, New Zealand, India, Thailand, the Middle East, Tokyo, Moscow, London, Paris and PNG/Solomon Islands.

But the China posting has become one of the most critical.

Our first China correspondent was Selwyn Speight who was posted there during World War II, and since the early 1970s we’ve had no fewer than 16 reporters posted there, including names familiar to many of you: Philip Wen, John Garnaut, Hamish McDonald and Stephen Hutcheon, currently our Digital Editor.

Now, Kirsty Needham has arrived in Beijing. Until recently, Kirsty was our Sunday state political editor, but during a career spanning almost 20 years at Fairfax Media she has reported on business, technology, and consumer affairs. She was also deputy foreign editor and worked in our Canberra political bureau. Not only is she a senior and accomplished reporter, but is a proficient speaker and reader of Chinese. She spent time as a reporter on the China Daily, after which she wrote a book, A Season in Red – shortlisted as a Walkley finalist.

As avid readers of our international coverage will know, the China-US relationship is once again under the spotlight, and with a new President in the White House there will likely be many more testing times as each of the superpowers seek to assert their authority over each other and in the region. As our international editor Peter Hartcher recently noted, as Donald Trump has stumbled clumsily through some of his initial dealings with important alliance partners, it gives China a greater field to play in.

“One of America’s unique strengths is that, while China is essentially alone in the world, the US sits at the centre of a formidable system of alliances with some 40 countries. The less these alliances are worth, the smaller America’s unique advantage,” he wrote.

But while the international power struggle continues to fascinate us from Australia, Kirsty has been focusing her reporting efforts on our burgeoning business ties and the ongoing consumer benefits of our trade arrangements.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives in Australia today. After China relaxed tough new rules for online sales, Australian company share prices leapt. Local brands like Blackmores, Bellamy’s and a2 Milk got almost instantaneous share price rises. A senior Chinese government minister told Kirsty China wanted to level the playing field in e-commerce for Australian and Chinese companies and encourage online sales of Australian products.

But while that was some good news, Kirsty also reported that Blackmores was publicly shamed on China’s annual Consumer Rights Day for violating the Chinese government’s strict “truth in advertising” laws. They were fined close to $70,000.

One of the key areas I’m confident Kirsty will continue to probe during her time there is the links between Chinese investors and the Australian property market. She broke a story over the weekend about a Chinese police chief who was jailed for buying Australian real estate with corrupt money.