China recently issued a crackdown on journalists from three American publications that operate in China for reporting on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
On March 17, China declared that journalists working with The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal would need to hand in their press cards within 10 days if those press cards are set to expire in 2020. The majority of Chinese-based U.S reporters have press cards that do expire this year.
While China’s refusal to renew press passes and visas for American journalists may just look like red tape to some, these actions are effectively the country’s first outright expulsions of foreign journalists in over 20 years. China’s authoritarian actions look like outright retaliation against freedom of speech.
China’s tensions with foreign journalists have been steadily escalating since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. This year, China has become increasingly angry with U.S. news outlets for their coverage of how terribly the Chinese government has handled the global Coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China.
Yaqui Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the action an “unprecedented move” that “chokes off…the very limited space for reporting in China.” Wang claims that foreign journalism has been vital in China, saying that Chinese authorities “exercise near-total control over the domestic media” in that country.
The official reason given by the Chinese Communist Party is that China is retaliating against President Trump for putting more regulations on Chinese journalistic institutions in the United States.
While there are thousands of Chinese-citizen journalists in the United States, the agencies in question by the Trump Administration are all a part of China’s official state-run news media. Many regard China’s state-funded media as an extension of the communist nation’s propaganda machine.
On February 18, the U.S. State Department declared that it would begin treating five of China’s state-run news outlets as foreign missions. This regulation requires those Chinese government agencies to cut down staff by about 25% (from 160 to 100), to seek approval before buying property in the U.S., and to file detailed reports about their employees and activities.
Unlike the Chinese government, however, the United States will place no restrictions on foreign journalistic activity, Chinese or otherwise.
This obviously isn’t China’s first act of hostility toward free speech. Communist China has always had a problem with the idea of a free press. These problems have just rapidly increased in the recent past.
On February 19, China announced it would be expelling the three journalists who wrote the WSJ piece, “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”. This investigative story, released over two weeks before on February 3, was decried as “racist” by the Chinese government.
When WSJ staff refused to apologize for the article, China demanded the story’s three authors leave the country within five days. But the WSJ story is only one of many that reports on China’s mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic and its apparent cover-up. China has increasingly tightened the reins on its own news outfits and limited foreign journalists’ access when it comes to reporting on COVID-19.
Since Xi Jinping began his term as President, the Chinese government has issued many visas that were shorter than the standard one-year duration for foreign journalists. These visas were often limited to six, three, and even one-month periods of time. These restrictions and others were covered in the report “CTRL+HALT+DELETE: Reporting in China Under Threat of Expulsion.”
In February, the New York Times published a story about China’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. It expelled American journalist Josh Chin, as well as Australian reporter Philip Wen, both of whom worked on the story. American journalist Chao Den was reporting from the Chinese containment zone at the time and could not leave.
Last year, China refused to renew the visa of a Singaporean journalist Chun Han Wong. This came after Wong and another journalist wrote an investigative piece about President Xi’s cousin, Ming Chai. The story investigated Chai’s suspected money-laundering activities, which are now being looked into by Chinese authorities.