China's press gets high marks for Marx-less US election coverage

The Chinese press deserves high marks for its reporting of the United States presidential election campaign, Western diplomats here say. The reports tell the Chinese public about the major issues and personalities of the campaign and about the vote-getting strategies of Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Until a few years ago, Chinese press coverage of American politics included heavy doses of commentary along Marxist-Leninist lines. Now there is an emphasis on factual and descriptive reporting, with little or no editorializing.

''Some years ago, Chinese journalists were prejudiced against American politics and tried to influence readers by adding things to their reporting,'' a senior Chinese newspaper editor said recently. ''Now they've adopted a more objective approach. After diplomatic relations were established and with better understanding (between the two countries), Chinese feel they should respect American politics and the American political situation.''

Reports and commentaries on the campaign have been appearing on a regular basis - about once a week - in such mass-circulation publications as the Communist Party's national newspaper, the People's Daily, and the weekly news magazine, Outlook. There also have been occasional reports in the foreign news segment of the nightly television news, which is broadcast nationwide.

What is remarkable, a Western diplomat said earlier this month, is that Chinese reporting on the US election has been so straightforward. The press coverage, beginning with the democratic primaries earlier this year, has described the full political process with a minimum of bias, he said.

Public interest in the election, however, is low to nonexistent. US election politics are as far removed from everyday life in China as the invisible drama of China's own leadership succession struggle is from the daily lives of American voters. Also, unlike many West Europeans and Japanese who find themselves linked to the US through a network of trade and security arrangements , the Chinese are still largely unaffected by decisions taken in Washington.

A recent exception to this is the Reagan administration's election-year decision to tighten regulations on quotas for textile imports.

The stricter enforcement of country-of-origin rules will affect more than 100 ,000 Chinese jobs, government spokesmen have said. Peking has threatened to take action unless the US government abandons the new rulings.

Another reason for the lack of interest in the elections is Mr. Reagan's strong standing in US public opinion polls, which are often reported here. In fact, several Western diplomats have said they thought the Chinese government has been convinced since mid-1983 that Reagan would be reelected.

Reagan is well known in China after his highly successful visit in April and May this year. In recent discussions with students at several universities, this reporter was asked about the elections and Reagan's prospects for reelection. Students at Shanghai's Fudan University, where Reagan spoke during his visit, also asked about Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraro. One student commented that Mondale had ''attracted worldwide attention'' by his choice of a woman as a running mate.

But many Chinese, both in and out of government, who follow US affairs say this year's election is less newsworthy than the battle four years ago between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. At that time candidate Reagan's conservative policies, including his apparent attempt to return to a ''two-China'' policy, caused concern. Since then Peking has been the beneficiary of a dramatic shift in the Reagan administration's policy.

In August 1982, Reagan signed a communique in which the US recognized the Peking government ''as the sole legal Government of China'' and pledged ''to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan.''

The Chinese government is officially neutral on the US election, though last month it did lodge a protest against the plank in the Republican Party platform expressing concern for the security of Taiwan and supporting self-determination for the people of Hong Kong. These are internal domestic matters, Peking said.

Even so, Peking is clearly pleased at the prospect of four more years for a president who has helped strengthen US business ties to China and has supported the country's ambitious modernization program, including upgrading its military forces.

''We have come to know Reagan better and to understand his policies,'' a newspaperman admitted recently. ''We don't feel we know Mondale, though he did visit here as vice-president.''

Despite this preference for continuity in Washington, it has become conventional wisdom that US-China policy will not change regardless of who is in the White House. Chinese officials seem convinced that, even with important differences over Taiwan and some ongoing economic and trade difficulties, neither Republicans nor Democrats will alter the general course of US-China relations set by the last four presidents.

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