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City's Chinese Papers Fight a Press War

In addition to serving a growing local audience, Hong Kong-based newspapers see Vancouver editions as an opening to China's market

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SINCE late last year, Vancouver, British Columbia - Canada's favored destination for Hong Kong emigrants - has been the focus of a press war between two Chinese newspapers. At stake is the publishers' access to millions of potential readers in mainland China, as well as readers here.

Far-sighted Hong Kong businessmen began making peace with communist China years ago. They built shrines to the dead in ancestral villages, donated schools in their parents' hometowns, and generally made efforts to establish goodwill in the run-up to Hong Kong's return to Chinese control in 1997.

Now some Hong Kong companies, including newspaper publishers, have begun an aggressive acquisition of overseas business networks. The aim is to increase their competitive advantage in talks with Chinese authorities. The greater the international market presence, analysts say, the more attractive their joint-venture proposals will be.

Sing Tao, one of Hong Kong's largest newspapers, has already proven the benefits of having a worldwide network of papers, including one here. In June, Sing Tao will launch the first-ever joint-venture daily newspaper in mainland China. Its partner in this venture, the Chinese government, is still negotiating the newspaper's content.

Initial circulation of the Shenzheng Economic Times is set at a modest 30,000. But talks on other joint-venture projects with the Chinese government are under way. Sing Tao's success at winning agreement from Beijing is considered a breakthrough.

``The most important thing was the strength of Sing Tao in overseas connections,'' says Ung Gim Sei, head of Sing Tao's China projects at the company's Hong Kong headquarters. ``Sing Tao is everywhere in the world where there are Chinese. It provides a network to reach Chinese everywhere.''

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