Communism for Profiteers

| Sat Jul. 17, 1999 2:00 AM EDT

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Among the plenary workshops and panel discussions in development for the conference are "Making Money in China Today," "Business and the People's Liberation Army," and -- congressional investigators take note -- "Expanding China's High-Technology Industrial Base." In the interest of diplomatic sensitivity, there will be no discussion of impolitic topics like human rights. Not surprisingly, that angers some activists.

"There are positive messages you can send and there are those that condition Chinese authorities to believe they can get away with unacceptable international behavior," says Minky Worden, who lived in Hong Kong for six years and is now a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. "This sends an implicit message to Chinese officials that the [current] crackdown is just super with U.S. companies."

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To such criticisms, Fortune spokeswoman Terry McDevitt responds, "We're a business magazine, not a political magazine. Human rights is not one of the things we normally cover." She added, "Though I don't want that to sound like no one here thinks about that."

The Global Forum will also provide for one of those marvelous moments of media synergy. Time-Warner Inc., which publishes Fortune, is putting the production on. Another of Time-Warner's subsidiaries, CNN, plans to air coverage of the event.

"It's natural and appropriate for CNN to cover this gathering," says Eason Jordan, president of international news for CNN. "The Forum brings together Chinese leaders and many of the world's top business leaders in the world's most populous nation on the 50th anniversary of its establishment," he said. The potential conflict-of-interest will be avoided in the usual way, according to Jordan: "CNN in its reporting on the Forum will disclose what many people already know -- CNN and Fortune have the same parent company, Time-Warner."

Fortune's Web site urges that interested parties recommend speakers for the magazine's conferences. You might suggest Bao Tong, the government official who served seven years for speaking out in favor of the demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. Send your own recommendations to Fortune at fortuneconf@pathfinder.com.