At the same time, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News – all major news sources from China – have also lost correspondents with no prospect of China allowing replacement. Australian news outlets no longer have correspondents in the country after the last two were driven out by Chinese officials earlier this month.
This threatening news vacuum appears to be the result of disputes between China and Western countries, particularly the United States, over issues including trade, China̵
Although China has been keeping an eye on non-Chinese journalists for decades, its actions since the spring have created some of the most limited conditions since the late 1970s, when American journalists began returning to China after being excluded by its communist government.
Beijing expelled three Wall Street Journal journalists in February, the first time since Mao Zedong’s government that several foreign journalists had been expelled at once. In March, it designated five U.S. news organizations – The Post, Times, Journal, Time magazine and Voice of America – as “foreign missions” to report to the government on their staffs, economy and operations in China. It also said journalists from the three American newspapers should leave the country when their visas expire this year.
The hostile climate provoked an unusually common plea from the publishers of The Post, Times and Journal. In an open letter to the Chinese government, which ran as a full-page ad in all three newspapers in March, they asked Beijing to “facilitate the growing decline in independent news organizations.”
The result of this worsening climate has, of course, been diminished coverage of China as the world struggles with the catastrophic impact of the pandemic.
“From a Chinese perspective, they would just as soon be done with” American journalists, “said Orville Schell, a leading Chinese researcher for more than 50 years. “It simply came to our notice then [financial reporters], because economic news is important to China, but they want to get rid of the rest. They see them as unrest looming over China. ”
Added Schell, “I think we are in a really alarmingly dangerous state of free fall [between the Chinese and U.S. governments]without roadmap to arrest the downward spiral. ”
The growing uncertainty about Chinese rule in Hong Kong prompted the New York Times to announce in July that it would move its Hong Kong-based digital news operations to Seoul by next year. As a British colony for decades, Hong Kong developed into a hub for Western news reporting on China. But it has been threatened by China’s efforts to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy, including the adoption of a flawed new “security” law in June aimed at pro-democracy factions.
Chinese officials have refused to renew a work permit for Chris Buckley, the Times’ veteran China correspondent, prompting him to leave the mainland in May. Buckley has documented a number of stories that have angered government officials and made him the target of criticism in China’s state-run media, including China’s mistreatment of Muslims and the government’s early response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Times still has two correspondents in Beijing and is “hopeful over time that we will be able to get our entire reporting staff back,” said Michael Slackman, the Times’ assistant editor-in-chief of international news. Yet “we are clearly struggling to figure out how we can best cover China when access is such an issue. But as you can see in our report, we continue to try to cover the most important political, social and economic stories of the day. Of course, it would be much easier if more of our correspondents were allowed to live and work in China again. ”
Fifield’s departure has left the Post Office to cover China far away, though its Beijing bureau will continue under two full-time Chinese researchers. Correspondent Gerry Shih was effectively deported from China in March; a new correspondent, Eva Dou, has not been able to obtain accreditation since March, nominally as a result of coronavirus restrictions. Despite the restrictions, Post’s foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, said the news agency “will continue to strongly cover China and its relations with the United States”
Spokesmen for the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News declined to comment.
The two Australian journalists, Bill Birtles of Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review, traveled quickly from China earlier this month after Chinese officials questioned them. Authorities asked them about their affiliation with Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian who serves as a news anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN. She was detained on August 14 for reasons that are still unclear.
Journalists spent four days in the hole at the Australian embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai while diplomats negotiated their departure. They were finally cleared to leave and eliminated the last Australian journalists in the country.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China condemned what it called the use of “foreign journalists as peasants in broader diplomatic disputes. . . . Such actions by the Chinese government constitute horrific scary tactics that threaten and seek to limit the work of foreign journalists based in China, who now face the threat of arbitrary detention to simply carry out their work and difficult circumstances that make it untenable to remain in the country. “