Jul 7, 2020 - Economy

Chinese tech and business coverage surges amid Hong Kong crackdown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, more U.S. media companies like The Information, Politico and The Wire China are looking to invest in coverage of the country and its technology and business boom.

Why it matters: "It's coverage you have to have if you're a serious tech or business news operation," says Bill Bishop, author of the Sinocism newsletter.

The Information, a business and tech news media company founded by Wall Street Journal veteran Jessica Lessin, is launching a new Chinese-language newsletter covering Silicon Valley and China’s tech sector for a Chinese-speaking audience. It will be its first non-English language editorial product.

  • The Information has four reporters in Hong Kong covering China and Asia technology: Shai Oster, Wayne Ma, Juro Osawa and Yunan Zhang.
  • Zhang will be the lead writer for the newsletter, which will be free and published weekly beginning this week.
  • The goal of the newsletter is to bring coverage of Silicon Valley and Chinese tech to the Greater China audience and Singapore and to introduce its China coverage to a wider Chinese audience.

At Politico, the company's new “China Watcher” newsletter written by David Wertime has quickly become one of its top-performing products since launching in May.

  • "Open rates are well north of 50%, putting it in the top tier of POLITICO newsletters from an engagement standpoint," says spokesperson Brad Dayspring.

Between the lines: Other journalists have found China's economic boom to be compelling enough to warrant its own publication.

  • David Barboza, a former longtime correspondent with The New York Times, co-founded The Wire China, a digital news magazine dedicated to understanding China's economic rise in April.
  • "Most publications consider China a tiny piece of what they cover; having a publication focused entirely on China and with its own database would likely mean improved reporting but also a decent readership for a very important topic," Barboza tells Axios.

Yes, but: Rising tensions between the U.S. and China and recent crackdowns in Hong Kong by mainland authorities will make it harder for international media operations to continue covering the country from within.

  • This will "make the job of doing journalism in the region harder in China and in Hong Kong," says Gady Epstein, The Economist's China affairs editor and a former media editor.
  • "It's going to be harder to get accreditations for visas in the future," says Bishop, who notes that organizations that already have staff in Hong Kong will be eager to keep existing staff in place.

Be smart: For many major news outlets, Hong Kong has for years been the hub for Western news coverage of China, but the new Chinese security law may make it harder for bureaus and journalists to remain there.

  • Journalists at big papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have already been expelled due to tensions between the U.S. and the Chinese government.
  • Epstein speculates that some news organizations could move their Asia bureaus to places like Tokyo, Singapore or Taiwan, but so far, none of the major news organizations with bureaus in Hong Kong have announced plans to move.

The big picture: Economic downturns have in the past prompted an unprecedented rise from China's business sector, forcing U.S. media companies to take notice.

  • "The leverage of the Chinese government and economy after the financial crisis shifted overnight," says Epstein, who helped start The Economist's China section in 2012.
  • "It was a daunting realization of how important the Chinese market was. Now coming out of pandemic, China didn't handle the initial epidemic well, but they seem to be getting their footing economically and people are relying on China again ... One again the business world looking to China as a leading edge of a recovery."

The rise of Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and ByteDance (TikTok's parent company) has also forced Western news outlets to invest in coverage of Chinese innovation and investment.

  • "U.S. China relations are at a decade-long low point, and yet there has never been a Chinese company that has captured the American imagination like TikTok," says Oster.
  • "So on one hand, you have this wave of isolationism, but on the other hand, Western VC-backed Chinese companies are bigger than they have ever been."
Go deeper