Beijing Summit Becomes a Big Deal for Media-Seeking Entrepreneurs


Just how long are President Clinton's coattails? Miles, judging from the host of companies, causes and even movies hoping to catch some powder off of the avalanche of media interest generated by Clinton's arrival Friday in the Chinese capital.

This city has been abuzz for days with preparations for the first visit by a U.S. president in nearly a decade. Municipal authorities have shooed away sidewalk vendors, hoisted U.S. flags along one side of Tiananmen Square and switched on festive strings of lights to put forward Beijing's freshest face for the first family and the hundreds or so in their retinue.

But equally as eager to bask in the Clintons' reflected glory as the political leadership here are entrepreneurs and publicists from across the globe. They stand ready to feed their stories to hundreds of reporters hungry for something besides communiques, formal statements and other official yakety-yak.

"We will make life as convenient as possible for reporters and give them the maximum amount of information," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman promised this week.

It was unclear, though, whether he spoke on behalf of the Communist government or the scads of public relations folks vying for coverage.

Take the Venice, Calif.-based producers of "Restless," a romantic comedy billed as the first co-production between U.S. and Chinese movie companies. Angling for a morsel from the media feast, the filmmakers scheduled a party Friday night at the exclusive China Club--membership fee, $15,000--to celebrate the movie's near-completion.

Its producers contacted the White House weeks ago to try to plan their coming-out party in concert with Clinton's tour.

"We had a dream that the president might even come," co-producer Paul Duke said. "They gave us some advice, and we followed it."

But changes in the president's schedule rendered it highly unlikely that he would make a cameo.

"We're a little disappointed about that," Duke said Friday as hopes shifted to a drop-in by First Daughter Chelsea.

"Restless," set in present-day Beijing and shot in English, will "give a Western audience, in particular, a glimpse of a China they haven't seen," said Duke, calling it a departure from the "costumes-and-concubines" dramas about China that are usually screened to great acclaim in the U.S.

Besides films, promoters of another beloved Hollywood cause, Tibet, also have descended on Beijing. The White House has said that Clinton will raise the issue of the once-independent Buddhist kingdom in his talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. And John Ackerly is here to see that it happens.

"It's higher on the agenda than it's ever been before. We know he will bring it up," said Ackerly, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. But "we haven't heard much optimistic information on the response he's likely to get."

The campaign is using the summit to press for the release of Tibetan prisoners-of-conscience, jailed for their loyalty to the exiled Dalai Lama.

Such prisoners "make up a third or even a half of all known political prisoners in China. It is startling how little attention is paid to their plight," said Ackerly, whose organization has booked rooms at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel here to help address the attention deficit. Most of the U.S. delegation, including members of the press, are staying at the Shangri-La.

Of course, the media are not above putting in a plug for themselves--not even in China, where information is often tightly controlled.

The China Internet Corp. threw a cocktail party Thursday to launch its new Web site for journalists and others seeking up-to-date information on the Clinton visit ( The state-sponsored site, in English and Chinese, includes introductions to the history and geography of both the United States and China.

The site will "provide latest online coverage for all those who are concerning China-U.S. relationship and hope to get more information conveniently," said a mostly intelligible press release from the China Internet Corp., which is backed by the New China News Agency, this country's official English news service.

The Internet company's network covers "the whole China," the release added.

Even the Australian Embassy in Beijing is jockeying for some of the spotlight.

In what may be the most beguiling offer so far during Clinton's visit, the embassy's press officer invited the media to attend a seminar Friday given by the company Caroma Australia, one of the world's leading makers of water-saving toilets.

"With a population of over 1 billion and droughts plaguing some parts of the country, can the Chinese afford clean, luxurious, Western-style toilets?" the media pitch asked. "Yes, says Caroma Australia."

The toilets boast a dual-flush system to control the amount of water that flows through. A spokeswoman for the embassy denied that the timing of the event had anything to do with the president's tour.

"It's just a coincidence," she said. "In fact, it's bad for us because all the journalists are going to be busy with Clinton's visit."

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