BEIJING &

A Chinese official hinted today that the country's easing of reporting rules for foreign journalists ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing could be extended past the end of the Games.




China relaxed restrictions on foreign journalists at the beginning of the year, exempting the reporters from having to apply for permission to travel and conduct interviews.




The new rules were part of the country's pledge to increase media freedom &

a promise that helped Beijing win the honor of hosting the 2008 Olympics.




"But no document says that when this new regulation expires on Oct. 17 next year we are going to return to the previous regulations," said Cai Wu, minister of the State Council Information Office.




"If practices show that it will help the international community know better about China, and it is in the interests of China's efforts of reform and opening up, it is not at all necessary for us to change a good policy," Cai told an end-of-the-year news conference.




Despite the new rules, foreign journalists and monitoring groups complain that harassment and occasional detentions continue.




On Wednesday, an Associated Press reporter was detained briefly and then taken away from a village in southern China where residents have been protesting for greater compensation for land they say was unfairly seized for a power plant.




Reporters in Beijing have been similarly detained when covering residents protesting the demolition of their homes for new roads.




The government's grip on the domestic media remains tight, dictating what can be reported and limiting any open discussion about democracy, religious freedom or material considered politically subversive.




The government decree announcing the relaxed reporting rules says they will expire on Oct. 17, 2008, after the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics that follow.