This year is one of great significance for China. It marks the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's decision to scrap class struggle as the country's top priority and to replace it with economic development. And, in August, for the first time, the country will host the summer Olympics, an event widely seen as marking the coming out of China after an eclipse of a couple of hundred years. The event, if not properly managed, could potentially prove disastrous. On the other hand, it also has the potential to propel China in the right direction by instituting reforms that have been held back by conservatives within the country. Cai Wu , director of the State Council's Information Office, said at a press conference before the end of the year that China in 2008 will adopt a 'more open' attitude in facing the world and the media. This is welcome news. Even more welcome is the hint he broadly dropped that reporting rules for the foreign media, eased for the period preceding and immediately following the Olympic Games, could become a permanent feature. 'No document says that when this new regulation expires on October 17, 2008, we are going to return to previous regulations,' Mr Cai said, hinting at the continuation of the arrangement. Hopefully that will be the case, although even the eased rules have not been evenly applied. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC), in a press release on January 1, said it had received more than 180 reports of foreign journalists being obstructed in their work since the new rules were introduced at the beginning of last year. The incidents included threats, physical violence, harassment, the seizure of notes and images, interrogation and visa refusals. In one case, Reuters correspondent Chris Buckley was attacked by 10 thugs while reporting on a prison. His equipment was stolen and he was threatened with death. In another case, Brice Pedroletti, a journalist with the French daily Le Monde, was observed while researching a story in Xinjiang . He and the people he interviewed were later followed and interrogated by police. Despite these incidents, there is no doubt that the new regulations are a great improvement, as they do away with such cumbersome procedures as applying for permission to interview officials or report outside the cities. It is also encouraging that Mr Cai said his office was training officials from around the country on how to better serve the media. He said news officials from 31 provincial capitals and municipalities had been trained and, in the coming year, the programme will be expanded to include city-level media officials. The fact that the FCCC reported 180 cases of obstruction shows there is a need for local officials - and perhaps even for those in Beijing - to emancipate their thinking about the role of reporters. Indeed, foreign reporters can be a great help to mainland China in its attempt to open up to the world. When Chinese officials accept the responsibility of meeting foreign reporters and giving truthful and timely accounts of events, they are not only helping journalists do their job, they are also helping China become a more normal country. After all, former premier Zhu Rongji explained that China needed to join the World Trade Organisation because it required an outside force to bring about domestic reforms. Without foreign pressure, in the form of WTO regulations, it would be much more difficult for China to make internal reforms. Similarly, it can be argued that foreign correspondents, too, are a force for change in mainland China. And the pressures they bring are causing Beijing to make adjustments, probably earlier and faster than it would otherwise. Recognition of the positive influence of the foreign media may eventually persuade Beijing to allow the domestic media similar freedoms so that they, too, can contribute to the country's reform. The fact that this is the 30th anniversary of the opening up of China will no doubt be properly marked by Beijing. And there is no more appropriate way than to advance reforms still further, not just in the economic realm but in the political arena as well, beginning with the freedom of both the foreign and domestic press. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.