In September 1977, Associated Press general manager Keith Fuller visited China for more than two weeks to get the permission to open a Beijing bureau of the news agency. Chinese officials told him it was not the right time. But in March 1979, two months after the U.S. and China normalized relations, AP became the first American media company to set up a Beijing bureau. Rival UPI also opened a bureau there.
AP appointed John Roderick as its first Beijing bureau chief. He had worked as China correspondent from 1945 to 1948 and reported on cross-straits affairs in 1947, forming close ties with key Communist Party officials, including Mao Zedong. But even Roderick was not allowed into China to report when U.S.-China relations soured after 1949. He was only able to send his stories out of China 22 years later in 1971 during the time of "Ping Pong Diplomacy." At the time he wrote of a breakthrough in the ideological impasse between the two countries.
Until AP was established in 1846, U.S. newspapers raced to get their reporters first on ships sailing in from Europe to get the latest news from the region. Then competing newspapers reached a solution and decided to cooperate, forming the Harbor News Association, which was later re-named the Associated Press. The first news bureau outside the U.S. was opened in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to meet ships sailing from Europe before they docked in New York.
AP has frequently been the first to set up a news bureau anywhere around the world where something is happening. It has over 300 bureaus around the world and provides stories to more than a billion readers a day. Now it has decided to open a bureau in Pyongyang, becoming the first comprehensive western media organization to do so, though China's Xinhua News and People's Daily and Russia's ITAR-TASS also have bureaus in Pyongyang.
AP CEO Tom Curley in March persuaded North Korean officials that the opening of an AP bureau would let Americans get objective and factual understandings of North Korean events. Until now, North Korea has opened itself up to the West only when it wished, such as inviting former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. But AP's Pyongyang bureau must not become a mouthpiece of North Korean officials.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Jeong Woo-sang