When Vice-President Biden was here in China earlier this week, China's harassment and expulsions of US journalists was among the issues he took up with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Now, however, some two dozen New York Times and Bloomberg News reporters in China face immediate expulsion for their investigative reporting on the personal wealth and shadowy financial ties of top Chinese government officials. Other US and international journalists have been expelled or denied visas, harassed, detained, and even physically attacked for reporting on "sensitive" issues or critical of the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, Chinese reporters working for China's state-run media enjoy unrestricted access to the US, despite the frequently negative coverage the US receives in Chinese media.
I'm not an investigative journalist, nor am I here in China on a soon-to-expire journalist visa, so I don't face the immediate threat of expulsion that those New York Times and Bloomberg reporters face. As a teacher, freelance writer, and blogger here, however, I have written critically about the Chinese government at such publications as the Asia Times and USA Today, so I can't help feeling some personal concern at China's aggressive treatment of Western journalists. In any case, I would very much like to see the US government send a clear signal to China that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.
In a special report on Chinese censorship earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists recommended that the President and the State Department "engage China's leaders on press freedom," and that the Senate and House foreign affairs committees and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission "hold public hearings on press freedom" in China. As China's crackdown on Western journalists worsens by the day, following through on these recommendations is more critical than ever.
The Center for International Media Assistance has also recommended that the US and other Western governments "respond vociferously to assaults and visa delays of foreign correspondents" and "consider diplomatic options for signaling that visa delays or denials are unacceptable for a country of China's international stature." In its recommendations CIMA noted that "to date, the response from Western governments to growing harassment of international media in China has often been timid."
Vice-President Biden's attention to this matter while in China is a welcome sign that perhaps the US government is ready to take a more aggressive role in protecting US journalists here. As we know, however, strong words one day can easily turn to inaction the next. This is particularly true in dealings with China, which has shown itself quite apt in getting what it wants through bullying, threats, and the occasional temper tantrum.
I'm sure that US news organizations are in communication with Washington to get some action on behalf of their reporters in China. For my part, I've started a White House petition to demand fair media access and an end to harassment and expulsion of American journalists in China under my first and last initials and US home address. If you could be so kind as to sign and circulate it (via Twitter, etc.), I and other Americans working in China would be eternally grateful. I've also written to my California members of the House and Senate in these regards, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Barbara Boxer (see also House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission). Should you choose to do likewise it would be lovely.
In a positive sign that further action may be forthcoming to protect US journalists in China, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (chaired by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH) will hold a roundtable on China's treatment of foreign journalists this Wednesday, Dec. 11. Panelists will include journalist Paul Mooney, who was denied a visa in November after reporting from China for 18 years.
As a Democrat I would love to see the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress take the lead in protecting US journalists in China. This should not be a partisan issue, however, since Democrats and Republicans both should be aware of all the ways in which China makes a general nuisance of itself. Two years ago an attempt was made with the Republican-sponsored China Media Reciprocity Act of 2011 to press China to treat US media equitably with the treatment of state-run Chinese media in the US. This bill failed to pass, however, amid concern that retaliatory limits on US visas for Chinese reporters might reflect badly on America’s commitment to press freedom or set off a visa war with China.
The situation for foreign journalists in China has clearly worsened since 2011, and shows no signs of improvement. As two dozen US journalists and their families face immediate expulsion from China, it's time to put a stop to this nonsense. If China wants to be accepted as a respectable member of the international community, it should learn to act accordingly. Please help teach China a lesson in polite behavior.
BRIEF DISCLAIMER: Please understand that my critical remarks on China are about the Chinese government, not the people or the country. I've known many wonderful people in the years I've spent here, and Shanghai is an amazing city. If there weren't much to like about it, I probably wouldn't stay. China under a different government would be a very different China.