Mar 5, 2023, 7:34pm EST

Why Semafor is launching “China and Global Business”


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A letter from our CEO

China’s emergence as a great power and its evolving, complex relations with the US and other countries is perhaps the biggest news story in the world.

As a global news brand founded in 2022, Semafor will cover this story from all angles and media platforms. Questions about China’s power and its future run through stories from the global economy to American politics to technology. We’ve been intentional about running those threads through our journalism from New York, Washington, San Francisco, London, and Lagos. Our reporting on China will become even more central to our mission when we launch Semafor’s Asia/Pacific edition for readers in that region.

Live journalism is one of the most exciting areas for growth and innovation in news media. We’ve embedded our events in the heart of our newsroom, and asked our journalists to prioritize this medium in their work. That’s already produced the newsy and successful Semafor Africa Week in December, and we’re looking forward to our World Economy Summit in Washington in April. There will be many, many more, as we intend to set a new standard in live events as newsmaking moments.

Semafor’s ”China and Global Business" initiative is our ambitious effort to put that kind of live journalism to work on one of the world’s biggest stories. The project consists of in-person meetings in China, the US and around the world leading up to our signature, inaugural “China and Global Business Forum” in Beijing this October 17-19. We are focusing on the paradox at the heart of the US-China relationship: trade and commercial ties keep growing despite the calls for “decoupling” and deterioration of government-to-government relations.

China has been closed to the world for three years and is finally opening up. What better way to understand this complex, nuanced story than going to China in person and seeing things firsthand?

We’re entering this endeavor with our eyes wide open and we welcome the scrutiny that comes with it. We aren’t under the illusion that Chinese business leaders or other local groups operate independently of the Chinese Communist Party.

Specifically, Chinese law requires foreign news organizations to engage with local partners to produce events like these. In this case, we are working with a Beijing-based think tank, the “Center for China and Globalization,” and the “China Public Diplomacy Association,” an organization under the Foreign Ministry. Those partners will secure required approvals, and issue formal invitations to Chinese speakers and audience members. CCG will take on local administrative responsibilities and coordinate with local sponsors, and Semafor will pay CCG for their services. The platform will be exclusively underwritten by corporate partnerships with no financial contributions from our local Chinese partners or the Chinese government.

We’ve deliberately and explicitly structured these agreements to protect our journalistic independence. We have 100% editorial and commercial control and the project is fully owned and operated by Semafor.

High-level conversations involving powerful Chinese figures are a hard kind of journalism to pull off, which may be why there’s so little of it. We are building a news company whose DNA is to pursue the hard interview, and we believe in the value to our audience and to the world of breaking news, delivering insights, and starting conversations.

I’ve spent three decades in global news and have founded several China-based news events. I can remember vividly sitting in the front row of the one of these events in Beijing in 2019  listening to former USTR Charlene Barshefsky eviscerating China for its violations of trade practices and intellectual property theft in front of hundreds of Chinese and global leaders, followed by tough words of response from the Chinese side. That’s live journalism at its best and what we intend to pursue here, without fear or favor.

We think this is important and crucial work and we hope you’ll engage with us as we build this platform. You can sign up here for more information and updates in the coming months.