THE upsurge of the American media's interest in Hong Kong has reflected the White House's attitude towards the region, according to Professor Lee Chin-chuan, visiting professor at the Journalism and Communication Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Lee, from the University of Minnesota, said the American media's coverage outside Washington had all along been in line with the US national interest and foreign policy. While 1997 itself was a news story that the US media was interested in, Professor Lee believed that the arrival of the American media heavyweights in the territory had to be a result of the overall consideration to the US national interest. 'They are interested in 1997 as a news story and want to come here as soon as possible, but their move also reflects their longer-term view,' said Professor Lee. 'In the post-Cold War era, the United States' biggest opponent is China and the situation in China has been changing so rapidly that the American media must be taking the view that relying only on their Beijing offices as the watching posts will not be enough in feeling the pulse of China.' China had become a major competitor of the US on the economic front and the rapid economic development in the region was something that the US wanted to have a better understanding of, he said. The changes in China were becoming more complicated and there was a need for extra strength to catch up with the fast-changing scene in China. The alternative to establishing offices in Hong Kong was to have them in Guangzhou, but Hong Kong in many respects was a much better location for gathering and disseminating news, he added. 'An office in Hong Kong can be multi-functional as it can cover Hong Kong, China as well as Asia,' said Professor Lee. Despite concern about Hong Kong's press freedom in the run-up to 1997, Professor Lee believed that the American media's arrival could be seen as a vote of confidence. They might still be worried about Hong Kong, but their final conclusion must be that having their operations in Hong Kong is still acceptable and manageable. 'The question is whether they have any alternative. Singapore cannot be an alternative as it is too far away from China,' said Professor Lee. 'I believe that while the degree of news freedom will diminish, on the whole, the transparency in Hong Kong is still high simply because of market competition,' he added. Hong Kong's role as a news centre in the region was unlikely to be replaced unless the situation deteriorated badly. But legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing was more pessimistic about press freedom in Hong Kong, and disagreed that the flood of American media heavyweights was a vote of confidence. 'They are not coming here to help us fight for press freedom. They are only interested in 1997 and the developments in China as a big news story,' said Ms Lau. 'If the situation deteriorates after 1997, they can pull out any time. Of course from Hong Kong's point of view, the more international media based here the better, as they can serve as a restraining factor in how China treats Hong Kong. 'But I don't have any wishful thinking on press freedom. It is true that the Basic Law guarantees that Hong Kong's policy remains unchanged, but people can give a thousand and one interpretations of the Basic Law to suit their purpose.' A deputy of the Chinese National People's Congress, Liu Yiu-chu, also believed that it was a good thing for more foreign media to move to Hong Kong as it could serve as a balancing force. 'It is a healthy thing to have different voices in Hong Kong, but this does not match with China's style,' she said.