The Chinese government has issued rules for foreign reporters covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics that give journos unprecedented freedom to move around the country in the run-up to the event.

New regs expire with the closing of the Games, however.

Foreign journalists currently need government permission to report outside Beijing or Shanghai, but under the new regulations, they need only the agreement of the person they are interviewing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.

“When you interview a person or company, you don’t have to apply to the local foreign affairs office for permission and they don’t have the responsibility to ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Liu said.

Restrictions for all foreigners on travel to the restive regions of Xinjiang and Tibet will remain. Human-rights groups often include media restrictions in China in their list of complaints about the decision to award the Summer Games to China.

Regs come into play Jan. 1 and expire on Oct. 17, 2008, but Liu declined to comment directly on whether China would then revert to the current rules, which have been in force since 1990.

The rules would apply to journalists “covering the Beijing Olympic Games and related matters,” but Liu said the same freedoms would be extended to all journalists.

Foreign journos also will be allowed to bring in, install and use radio communication equipment under the new rules.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, which represents journalists from international media in China, welcomed the regulations.

“Depending on how they are implemented, we hope they’ll one day be looked back upon as a major step in bringing correspondents’ reporting conditions in China much closer to international standards,” the group said in a statement, adding that it hoped the rules would be made permanent, and not just for the Olympics.

Liu said controls would remain in situations where “social order” is at stake.