Reporting from China: How this trip was different


This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lesley Stahl reports from Beijing and Shanghai, cities few Western journalists have entered since 2020, when China began to expel some journalists and restrict access to others in the foreign media. Stahl went at the invitation of U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, who spoke about China’s economy and its relationship with the U.S. 

According to Stahl, the visit was different from previous reporting trips she has taken with 60 Minutes because she was not accompanied by a government minder. 

“The Chinese authorities pretty much left us alone, except there were cars following us. We saw them,” Stahl said. “But they were not obtrusive. They never interfered.”

Stahl has had plenty of interference in previous trips. At times, minders from the Chinese Communist Party attended shoots, occasionally coaching subjects on what to say. Once, a convoy of unmarked police cars arrived on a shoot to stop filming, and another time, a special police unit confiscated the videotapes in 60 Minutes’ cameras. 

This time, Stahl said, it was more subtle: Stahl and her 60 Minutes crew were told that the government’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras were watching them. Stahl also later found out the government had tried to shut down some of the interviews 60 Minutes set up with Chinese businesses. 

Finding American companies to open up was just as challenging. Stahl and her team requested interviews with many American firms that do business in China, but the majority would not speak to 60 Minutes, even off the record. 

Stahl said the American firms were concerned, both about what may happen to them in China —and of the American reaction at home, including from members of Congress looking for tougher policy on China.

“They’re worried about a backlash against their companies just for doing business in China,” Stahl said.  

But in Beijing and Shanghai, the state of the economy rules decisions right now, according to Burns. 

“They’re experiencing economic problems that they have not experienced for 40 years,” Burns told Stahl. “They’re worried that American, and Japanese, and German companies might leave. They’re worried about foreign direct investment. I think they want calmer waters.”  

Photos courtesy of Karen M. Sughrue.

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger. 

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