Mail Online has quietly gone into partnership with the Peopleâs Daily, the Chinese Communist partyâs flagship newspaper, swapping up to 40 stories a week over the past year with an outlet expected to demonstrate âabsolute loyaltyâ to Beijing.
A paper with a sevendecade history as Chinaâs official mouthpiece might seem an unlikely partner for a conservative-leaning British tabloid, but as well as serving as messenger for edicts from Communist party technocrats in its stolid Chinese-language edition, the Peopleâs Daily presides over a growing empire of publishing outlets.
The Mail Online editor, Martin Clarke, said no cash was involved in the deal, which allows the two news organisations to plunder each othersâ archives for more than three dozen stories a week. âItâs basically a copy swap,â he said.
âWe believe this relationship broadens our coverage [in China] and also helps us better understand the countryâs social and political structures,â he said in an email to the Guardian, adding that it does not compromise the paperâs independence or restrict the use other sources and stories for China coverage.
âIn the context of the British [and every other western] governmentâs official policy to foster closer cultural and trade ties with China this modest arrangement does not seem remotely odd, merely sensible.â
Peopleâs Daily stories are selected and translated by a Mandarin-speaking staff member, Clarke said, and their origin is marked with the tag âThis story was produced in partnership with The Peopleâs Daily â people.cnâ.
Despite Clarkeâs nod to political coverage, the Mail seems more interested in picking up bizarre stories that might help drive traffic to its site.
Recent examples include the story of a man who was accidentally wheeled off for a haemorrhoid operation while waiting for delivery of his baby, and one about thousands of tourists crammed into queues for a national park.
Clarke did not directly respond to questions about media freedom concerns in China, a country where journalists work under heavy state pressure.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, toured major state-run media this year, including the Peopleâs Daily, and demanded absolute loyalty to the ruling Communist party.
âAll the work by the partyâs media must reflect the partyâs will, safeguard the partyâs authority and safeguard the partyâs unity,â Xi said at a later meeting.
There are other collaborations between British and Chinese media, but they have taken the form of paid-for content.
The Telegraph has a lucrative sponsorship deal for the China Watch supplement, which carries articles from the governmentâs official English-language newspaper China Daily. It is also circulated with the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in the US and several other newspapers around the world.