[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
CHINA'S TREATMENT OF FOREIGN JOURNALISTS
CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
DECEMBER 11, 2013
Printed for the use of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.cecc.gov
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
86-658 WASHINGTON : 2014
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
http://bookstore.gpo.gov. For more information, contact the GPO Customer Contact Center, U.S. Government Printing Office. Phone 202�09512�091800, or 866�09512�091800 (toll-free). E-mail, [email protected]
CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
SHERROD BROWN, Ohio, Chairman CHRIS SMITH, New Jersey,
MAX BAUCUS, Montana Cochairman
CARL LEVIN, Michigan FRANK WOLF, Virginia
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California ROBERT PITTENGER, North Carolina
JEFF MERKLEY, Oregon MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina
TIM WALZ, Minnesota
EXECUTIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
To Be Appointed
Lawrence T. Liu, Staff Director
Paul B. Protic, Deputy Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Opening Statement of Hon. Sherrod Brown, a U.S. Senator from
Ohio; Chairman, Congressional-Executive Commission on China.... 1
Wong, Edward, Correspondent, the New York Times, Beijing Bureau.. 4
Beech, Hannah, East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief,
Dietz, Robert, Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect
Cook, Sarah, Senior Research Analyst for East Asia, Freedom House 9
Wong, Edward..................................................... 30
Dietz, Robert.................................................... 31
Cook, Sarah...................................................... 36
Submission for the Record
Written Statement of Paul Mooney, Freelance Journalist........... 41
CHINA'S TREATMENT OF FOREIGN JOURNALISTS
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2013
Commission on China,
The roundtable was convened, pursuant to notice, at 3:31
p.m., in room SVC 203-202, Capitol Visitor Center, Senator
Sherrod Brown, Chairman, presiding.
Present: Lawrence Liu, Staff Director; Paul Protic, Deputy
Staff Director; and Jesse Heatley, Senior Research Associate.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. SHERROD BROWN, A U.S. SENATOR FROM
OHIO, CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
Chairman Brown. Thank you for joining us today for this
roundtable. This is either our fourth or fifth roundtable like
this, usually staff-led, and today will mostly be staff-led by
the Staff Director, Lawrence Liu, who is as good as they come
on understanding and bringing questions out and listening to
people and reporting and making a big difference that way.
This one is as important as any we have done. I have to
preside, in about a half an hour, over the Senate, so I will be
leaving. But I wanted to kick it off and introduce each of the
panelists and announce, first of all, that the media
organizations have come here today at our request. They didn't
seek us out, we asked them to come--each of them to come. We're
appreciative of all that could join us today because we have a
lot we need to know and a lot to learn. I think they probably
will have a lot to say.
When I think how far they came to get here--Edward is based
in Beijing, Hannah is based in Beijing and has come down from
New York, as have Bob and Sarah. Paul Mooney, who was
originally scheduled, is in San Francisco, and couldn't join us
because of health issues.
His record as a freelance journalist has shed such light on
what's happened in the People's Republic of China. He is a
Vietnam War vet that kind of fell in love with that part of the
world and has devoted much of his life there. He has submitted
a statement and I believe he is watching this livestream in
some way or another.
We are calling on China immediately, this Commission and
all of us in the Senate and House that care about these issues,
to immediately cease its policy of harassing foreign
journalists, period. They have denied and delayed visas, they
have blocked Web sites of foreign media in China.
That is not the way to be integrated into the world economy
and in the world generally. We ask and demand that China back
off this policy. If the situation does not improve, we will
consider other steps that Congress may take to address this
Our approach is critical. China, as we all know, is the
world's most populous nation. It is the United States' second
leading trade partner. It faces daunting challenges. We know
the challenges facing China, everything from crippling
pollution and widespread corruption to suppression of basic
freedoms we have taken for granted. And, as we have seen most
recently but for some time, China is increasing its military
posture in the region. The whole point is, what happens in
China affects the United States, affects the world community--
Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and all the world.
Therefore, it is imperative that foreign journalists, that
journalists worldwide, get an opportunity to travel freely in
the People's Republic of China and report back what they are
seeing and what they are hearing and help to paint a picture,
as good journalists are able to do, about what is going on
there. We cannot get that picture, we cannot get an accurate
depiction or accurate picture, without foreign journalists.
My wife is a journalist. She has for years helped to
educate me about the importance, whether it is investigating
corruption or whether it is shining a light on people's lives
or whether it is watching government and business and the way
they act in the marketplace, the political marketplace and the
economic marketplace. We know that this panel of journalists up
here paints that picture.
Who will report on what is happening with the Uyghurs, who
will report on Tibet, who will report on the plight of human
rights activists if not foreign independent journalists? Who
will investigate labor conditions in factories? We know that we
buy so much in this country made in the People's Republic of
Under what conditions are those products made? It has to be
the foreign press because we know that with the attitude of the
government, the People's Republic of China, that China's own
journalists are hamstrung by severe censorship. That is why the
recent actions from the government to shut down foreign
journalists is so troubling.
What is happening now has few precedents in China or
anywhere else. If 23 reporters do not get their visas by the
end of the year, the New York Times and Bloomberg may not be
able to cover China at all. Imagine that. Those two very
respected worldwide news organizations who have reporters
darned near everywhere will not be able to paint that picture
of China, whatever that picture might be in the coming months.
China has now made this a fair trade issue by blocking
access to the Web sites of the New York Times, of Bloomberg,
and the Wall Street Journal, of Reuters. In November, Chinese
officials denied a visa to the journalist whom I mentioned
earlier who is watching from San Francisco, Paul Mooney, after
he had been reporting there for 18 years.
For years, foreign journalists have had to operate not in
the safest or the easiest or the best conditions, having to
endure periodic beatings, interrogations, and harassment just
to do the job that journalists worldwide should be able to do
without those kinds of burdens.
But what is new is that China is now threatening to use its
weapon of last resort, actually closing the country off to the
rest of the world. That is why we must do all we can to prevent
that. That is why we asked--Larry, I, and Cochairman Smith
asked--these news organizations and these individuals to appear
on this panel today at our request, and fortunately they have
agreed to do it.
I will introduce the panelists all at once and then, Mr.
Wong, I will start with you and we will work our way down this
Edward Wong is a correspondent for the New York Times in
the Beijing bureau. He's been with the Times since 1999. He was
previously a correspondent in Baghdad, covering the Iraq War
from 2003 to 2007. He received a Livingston Award for his Iraq
coverage. He was among a group of reporters from the Times'
Baghdad bureau named as finalists for the Pulitzer Price in
The second panelist is Hannah Beech, East Asia
correspondent and China Bureau Chief for Time Magazine. She
covers politics, conflicts, culture, diplomacy, and other
regional issues from a base in Beijing. She joined Time in 1987
as a reporter in Hong Kong, and later spent time in Shanghai
She is one of the few international journalists to report
widely from Burma, and she has won numerous reporting awards,
including being named Journalist of the Year by the Society of
Publishers in Asia in 2011.
Bob Dietz is the Asia program coordinator for the Committee
to Protect Journalists. He has held that position since 2006.
Mr. Dietz previously worked as a journalist in Africa, the
Middle East, Asia, and the United States. He has served as
Bureau Chief for NBC News in Seoul and Manila, and was senior
editor of Asia Week Magazine for seven years.
Last, we are lucky to have Sarah Cook, Senior Research
Analyst for East Asia at Freedom House. Ms. Cook has appeared
before our Commission a number of times and recently authored
an important report on how the Chinese Communist Party's media
restrictions affect news outlets around the world. She is the
author of several articles and numerous country reports
examining press freedom and democratic governance.
I think that all of these journalists have probably a
number of things in common, and one of them is courage. You
have listened to where they have been stationed, where they've
reported, no easy assignments. Oftentimes they're in harm's
way. They are in many ways like the soldiers we send overseas,
and sometimes with fewer protections than they have. For that,
we are also grateful for your service to our country and to the
world by what you do.
So Mr. Wong, if you would begin. Each of you will take five
minutes, please, around five minutes, and then Lawrence Liu
will begin the questions after that.
STATEMENT OF EDWARD WONG, CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES,
Mr. Wong. Thank you, Senator. I will open with a statement
from the New York Times, the institution. It is not a statement
from myself, it is a statement that is signed by Joe Abramson,
our executive editor.
In the last year, the New York Times and other major
foreign news organizations have been confronted with
deteriorating conditions for doing journalism in China. The
Communist Party and Chinese Government have stepped up their
efforts to shape news coverage and suppress stories they find
objectionable, applying pressure in various forms and
inarguably unprecedented fashion.
The situation is the most serious in years and poses an
urgent threat to our ability to report freely and
comprehensively on the world's second-largest economy. Most
recently, Chinese officials have halted the regular year-end
renewal process for the residency visas of nine Times
journalists. If the renewal process does not go forward, these
journalists and their families will be forced to leave China
before the end of the year.
With the first visas expiring in less than two weeks, the
Times could be left without reporters in Mainland China for the
first time in nearly three decades. The Chinese Government has
also refused, for many months, to provide visas for two
journalists hired for the Beijing Bureau by the Times.
Philip Pan, the incoming bureau chief, has been waiting for
more than a year and a half. Chris Buckley, who was hired from
Reuters in the fall of 2012, had to leave Beijing one year ago
when his visa from his previous employer expired and the
government declined to provide a new one for the Times.
He has been forced to live in Hong Kong, apart from his
wife and daughter who reside in Beijing. In addition, China has
blocked access to the Web sites of the Times, including a new
Chinese-language site, since the October 2012 publication of a
report on the hidden wealth of family members of the Prime
Minister at the time.
This severely hampers our ability to provide quality
journalism to readers in Chinese. This fall, we started an
online Chinese-language version of T Magazine, the Times'
culture and lifestyle publication, only to have that blocked in
November after publication of other stories that the
authorities deemed unacceptable.
In conversations in the last year with the Times, Chinese
officials have pointedly objected to articles that explore the
intersection between elite politics and the economy. In other
words, they are asking the Times and other media organizations
to refrain from the kind of reporting that we do in every part
of the world, including in the United States.
As China's economy becomes more deeply intertwined with
that of the United States and other nations, covering the full
range of issues in the country becomes increasingly important.
Senior executives at the Times have tried to explain our
mission and our viewpoint to Chinese officials. The Times
increased those efforts last year when our Web sites were
blocked and our visa applications for new journalists frozen.
Despite our attempts at dialogue and at resolving
misunderstandings, Chinese officials continue to treat coverage
in the Times as hostile. We find ourselves at an unusually
uncertain moment, one that involves our core principles of open
journalist inquiry and also our ability to reach the large and
news-hungry online audience in China.
The Times remains committed to coverage of China. We have
invested great resources in this and we have demonstrated a
willingness to report on all aspects of China, its politics,
economy, foreign policy, environment, culture, sports, even
We will continue to report on China even if our journalists
are expelled from the country, though the range in depth of our
coverage will suffer, as would our readers' understanding of
China. We also worry that expulsions would have a profound
chilling effect across news media organizations.
As always, we are willing to work with all parties to
ensure that we can remain engaged with China while performing
our journalistic mission. That has been the goal of the Times
in China since the country's leaders embraced a policy of
reform and opening up decades ago.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wong appears in the
STATEMENT OF HANNAH BEECH, EAST ASIA CORRESPONDENT AND CHINA
BUREAU CHIEF, TIME
Ms. Beech. Thank you, Senator, again, for inviting me to
participate in this roundtable discussion. First of all, a
little bit of background. I have been accredited as a foreign
correspondent in China since 2000, the whole time with TIME
Magazine. Since then, despite some hassles, I have had no
problem getting approval from the Chinese Foreign Ministry to
live and work in China, despite writing articles that obviously
displease the Chinese authorities.
I know that these certain articles have displeased the
authorities because I have been called in multiple times in
both Beijing and Shanghai and lectured about my coverage. At
one point I was called in twice in quick succession for stories
that I had written, one on a little-known HIV crisis in rural
China and another on baby smuggling in southwestern China.
I was told by my Foreign Ministry handler that I had two
strikes, and the next time I would be out. I suppose I could
compliment the Chinese official for his knowledge of baseball.
The threat of expulsion was made quite overtly, however, I have
never compromised my coverage and I was never thrown out of
Chairman Brown. Can I interrupt you for a second?
Ms. Beech. Yes.
Chairman Brown. Do you feel physical threat, physical
danger, or do your colleagues when they are called in on
articles like that, or it never gets to that?
Ms. Beech. You are meeting in the Foreign Ministry in these
very big chairs with doilies, antimacassars, on the side that
make you feel quite small. But no, I didn't feel any sense of
Chairman Brown. All right.
Ms. Beech. Just to continue, two years ago I wrote an
article on self-immolations in Tibetan regions of China. I
snuck into an area where foreign journalists were technically
off limits. As a consequence of that, my annual visa renewal
process two years ago dragged on and on. My handler at the
Foreign Ministry mysteriously could not meet with me, even
though those days he could meet with somebody else.
He also, when we finally did meet, sent me to a lecture on
Tibetan Buddhism and all the things that I had apparently
misunderstood about Tibetan Buddhism. I was offered what I
would call a polite, but relatively pointed, critique of my
I was finally given an appointment to reapply for my visa
on December 31, which was exactly the same day that my visa
expired. I was pretty confident that my visa would be renewed,
but it made me sweat a little bit.
Like many foreign journalists in China, I presume that my
phone is tapped and email monitored. My email account was
obviously hacked when I was in Dharamsala in India where the
Tibetan government-in-exile is based.
I've been followed, obviously, and presumably also not so
obviously. I have had a Chinese assistant beaten for working
for me, and sources jailed. In fact, Chen Guangcheng, the blind
legal advocate who now resides in the United States, met with
me in Beijing just hours before he was subjected to years of
Having said all this, my general feeling is that compared
to 2000 when I first started working for TIME in China, it is
easier to operate as a foreign journalist in China. It used to
be that we were supposed to get permission from the Foreign
Ministry every time we left the city where we were accredited.
In point of fact, it was quite hard to get that permission
so foreign journalists basically ignored the rule. But it meant
occasionally if you were stuck in a place and caught in a place
where you were not supposed to be, that you would have to write
what were called self-criticism letters to explain your
In 2008, I think things got significantly better for the
foreign media operating in China. The rules changed and we were
allowed to travel to most places within the country without
permission. I think there was a general feeling of more
openness, not just for journalists but for NGO workers and
other members of civil society.
But as the Arab Spring ignited and presumably sparked fears
in China about social unrest at home, things have tightened
again. The crackdown has not just affected foreign media.
Dozens of dissidents, scholars, and academics, Chinese
journalists, and others have been jailed or intimidated,
suffering fates much worse than the foreign press has
The treatment of my colleagues at Bloomberg, the New York
Times, Reuters, Paul Mooney, and Al Jazeera, as well as brave
Chinese who have independent voices against injustice, is for
me very deeply concerning.
I will close with another sports analogy which may please
my former handler at the Foreign Ministry: I think the ball is
in their court and I hope they know how to play it well.
Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT DIETZ, ASIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR, COMMITTEE
TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS (CPJ)
Mr. Dietz. Thank you very much, Senator. Thanks for the
I have prepared remarks which are available outside. I'm
just going to tear through some of these quickly and make some
of the more important points. Many of them have already been
made by Edward and Hannah.
The general feeling in China is, with the arrival of
President Xi Jinping's government in 2012, foreign journalists
based in China have come under more pressure.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China from whom I will
be drawing a lot of information said, about the visa problem
that not just Bloomberg and The New York Times are facing them,
but other journalists, such as Paul Mooney, Melissa Chan, and
others. The authorities are giving no public explanation for
their actions, leading to the impression that they have been
taken in reprisal for reporting that displeased the government.
China's officials have said that foreign media in China
must abide by Chinese laws and regulations, but they have never
explained which laws and regulations those are. This
information comes from the Foreign Correspondents Club of
China, which has about 200 members.
Unease around visa renewals has long been a problem in
China. In the past, journalists have always applied for visas
in November and December and have generally gotten them later
in December. A journalist visa expires a year after the day it
is issued and if, say, they are issued a visa on December 15,
then next year it will expire on December 14.
Larger organizations with many employees submit visas on
different dates, each with a different expiration date, so
visas are very often a rolling problem for them.
Under new rules announced in June and July, all visas, not
just those for journalists, must go through a screening by the
Public Security Bureau [PSB], and that could take up to 3
weeks, 15 business days, the PSB made clear. At the time there
were a lot of complaints from journalists, but these visa rules
also applied to any other foreigners working in China--it was
not just a change directed at journalists.
The Public Security Bureau, when they made this
announcement, said that they would try and expedite visas and
try not to cause problems.
As one journalist who worries that their visa will not be
renewed told me, the big question right now is, are the Chinese
authorities bluffing? From what that one journalist can
determine, there is no real way to tell beyond waiting it out.
This sort of situation creates real logistical issues for
many reporters. If the government decides on the day before the
visa's expiration date that the journalist can stay, the
journalist may have already shipped everything home, have taken
their kids out of school, and basically gotten ready to leave
I should make this clear, too: Despite having Edward and
Hannah here, many of the journalists with whom I spoke in China
did not want to have their names used and requested anonymity.
This visa problem is not something new. Officials do not
offer any information or notion of directive from above when
they hand down their decision on visas. As one journalist said,
we are just sitting there waiting in visa purgatory with
endless phone calls and no confirmation.
I will move on here quickly.
Chairman Brown. Can I ask one question about that, Mr.
Mr. Dietz. Yes.
Chairman Brown. Is there any place else you've been, or
your colleagues have been around the world, where the visa
process is so sort of precipitous or a similar problem?
Mr. Dietz. I had a similar problem in 1981 in Somalia. This
does happen in other countries. It is not played as well as it
is in China and very often people are left hanging, unable to
plan, and organizations are unable to plan on the number of
staff and stabilize the size of the staff they have. I think it
is less systematic other places. I mean, there's obviously a
system working here. I think we would all agree in saying that
Chairman Brown. At least it's predictably difficult.
Mr. Dietz. You know you're going to have this problem at
the end of the year and with this new addition of having the
Public Security Bureau involved it's gotten more complex.
But frankly, all the journalists I've spoken with don't
know, including the New York Times and Bloomberg, what is going
to happen. We are seeing that 24 journalists might or might not
be expelled, but in fact it's might or might not be expelled.
They're in this visa purgatory, visa limbo, if you will, that
there's no way to resolve.
I'm running close on time and I'm going to go to the very
end of my speech and address an issue which hasn't come up, and
I think, Senator, you and I might disagree on, but let's see.
CPJ is glad that Vice President Joseph Biden raised the
issue of visas and their link to the freedom to report in China
while he was there earlier this month. Diplomatic engagement
like that is the best way to address such problems, but CPJ is
concerned by new calls that if foreign journalists in China are
not granted visa renewals, that there should be retaliation
from the United States.
There was a Washington Post editorial to that effect on
December 8 entitled ``China's Strong-Arm Tactics Toward U.S.
Media Merit a Response.'' It is worthwhile to note that the
Foreign Correspondents Club of China opposes such tactics as
In 2012, last year, we opposed a similar act directed
against Chinese journalists by the Voice of America, who
protested that they were only allowed to have two journalists
stationed in China, while there are many, many Chinese
journalists in the United States basically working for the same
sort of state media.
At the time we said don't punish journalists for these
official bureaucratic problems. Instead, either deal with them
diplomatically or deal with it at the level of the bureaucrats
and not the journalists, not the working people who are on the
I will finish this quickly. I have seven seconds. China
says that it has allowed 682 journalists to work within its
borders, and not just those from the United States. That number
seems realistic, though there is no way to check it. There are
a growing number of Chinese journalists working around the
world and not just in the United States as China seeks to
extend its soft diplomatic power. It would be disastrous if
democratic countries were to launch a round of modern-era Cold
War tit-for-tat accreditation wars aimed at restricting the
access of foreign journalists in foreign countries.
I checked recently with a Chinese journalist based in the
United States, who I know fairly well. That person said there
are no visa problems for Chinese journalists working here, as
far as that person is aware. Visa applications are handled from
Beijing, the reporter told me, and other than the face-to-face
interview with the immigration official, journalists are not
involved in the process and there are no hassles for Chinese
journalists in the United States and in other open democracies.
The journalist feels it should stay that way.
Chairman Brown. I am not sure I do disagree with you on
that, so thank you. It sort of begs the question of what role
the U.S. Government plays in this. From a diplomatic
perspective, it makes sense: We press China to get visas, but
we also know that there needs to be a balance between our
advocating for journalists when the Chinese are obviously going
to spin it in a way that foreign journalists are somehow an arm
of the U.S. Government. So that is an issue we need to deal
Mr. Dietz. Yes.
Chairman Brown. I am going to call on Ms. Cook, but I am
going to have to leave to go preside and Larry will take over.
So, thank you.
Ms. Cook, please proceed.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Dietz appears in the
STATEMENT OF SARAH COOK, SENIOR RESEARCH ANALYST FOR EAST ASIA,
Ms. Cook. Thank you. Thank you, Senator.
In my remarks this afternoon I am going to focus on three
aspects of the Chinese Government's relationship with
international media that extend beyond individual journalists
who are working inside China, specifically: the use of
collective punishment tactics against news organizations; the
geographic expansion of some aspects of this phenomenon beyond
China's borders; and the long-term impact of such pressures.
In terms of collective punishment--and we have heard a few
examples of this here--the impact of the obstacles that
individual journalists face goes far beyond that particular
person's career or physical safety, affecting the broader
ability of news organizations to report from China.
So when American television correspondent Melissa Chan's
visa renewal was refused, Al Jazeera English has to shutter its
presence in China because no visa was granted for a
In other cases, journalists have told the Foreign
Correspondents Club of China that officials implied that their
visa delay was due to their predecessor's--rather than to their
own--reporting, a kind of collective retaliation.
These examples reflect the broader phenomenon whereby the
targets of Chinese sanctions expand beyond specifically
offending content or an individual journalist to collective
retaliation against an entire outlet, sometimes with notable
The Chinese Government's multi-faceted reactions to
investigative reports by Bloomberg and the New York Times about
the financial holdings of kin of high-level Chinese officials
exemplify these dynamics.
The second point I wanted to raise is that the geographic
reach of how these dynamics play out are not solely restricted
to China. In early 2013, several news organizations, including
the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post,
publicized that they had been victims of complex cyber attacks
by Chinese hackers.
The attacks not only targeted individual China-based
journalists who are well used to finding malware on their
computers, but also infiltrated the companies' servers outside
of China. Though the attacks could not be conclusively traced
to the Chinese Government, several features lend credibility to
In other cases, the connection to the Chinese Government
actors is much more explicit because Chinese officials and
diplomats have taken direct action to pressure international
media executives outside China to take down or refrain from
publishing a critical report.
After Bloomberg offered the Chinese Government an
opportunity to comment on the Xi Jinping story before
publication, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States met
personally with the company's editor-in-chief here in
Washington, DC, alongside other behind-the-scenes pressures.
These pressures are also not limited to the United States.
In June 2013, the television station France 24 reported that
Chinese Embassy officials visited its Paris headquarters and
demanded that the chief executive remove a brief documentary
about Tibet from the company's Web site. The Foreign
Correspondents Club noted similar incidents occurring in London
and Berlin over reporting by the Financial Times and ARD TV,
In terms of the long-term impact, hard-hitting reporting
from China continues to reach newsstands and television screens
around the world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of
reporters like Hannah and Edward. But nonetheless, we see the
Chinese Government's efforts to thwart independent
investigations taking a toll on international media coverage of
When journalists' sources are intimidated into silence,
journalists are often forced to abandon potentially newsworthy
stories, including on health issues like AIDS or deadly
asbestos, or to invest an inordinate amount of time and money
in order to complete them.
Lack of unimpeded access to regions such as Xinjiang and
Tibet has hindered independent investigations of severe
crackdowns, forced disappearances, and torture. Blocked access
has sometimes forced over-reliance on Chinese state media
reports, whose unverified details can sometimes seep into
Western news items.
International media have often defiantly resisted direct
and indirect pressure to alter their content, despite sometimes
quite significant potential financial losses, but not always.
Even well-respected outlets have faced allegations of self-
censorship. The recent reports of apparent decisions by
Bloomberg executives to curb the publication of stories
investigating the links between Chinese tycoons and the
political elite are one such example.
In 2012, the Washington Post's then ombudsman questioned
the paper's handling of an interview with Xi Jinping that was
printed verbatim based on Chinese-dictated questions and
replies. He noted the Post's difficulties securing visas and
the receipt of significant income from a Chinese state-run
advertorial as potential pressure points.
Separately, a 2009 academic study found that reports about
the Falun Gong spiritual practice in major Western news outlets
and wire services were few and far between, despite the ongoing
scale and severity of abuses suffered by its adherents. The
author cited self-censorship and CCP [Chinese Communist Party]
obstructions as two factors contributing to the phenomenon.
Despite sporadic stories, this trend has largely continued.
Over the past year, dozens--and more likely hundreds--of Falun
Gong adherents have been detained and sentenced to prison, in
some cases for up to 12 years, yet there has been almost no
coverage in major news outlets of the crackdown, despite its
implications for how one might interpret other headline-
grabbing developments like reform of the labor camp system.
The existence of self-censorship is difficult to
conclusively document, and as I mentioned before there is a lot
of very good reporting, of course, coming out of China, despite
the pressures to limit reporting on certain topics.
But as the former Washington Post ombudsman noted,
``There's interdependence in the relationship and constant
negotiation and compromise. The Chinese know it and they take
advantage of it.''
As this kind of transnational contestation unfolds, there
is much at stake. Independent news outlets facing Chinese
reprisals experience rising costs and loss of advertising
revenue in an already competitive and financially challenging
News consumers outside of China are deprived of critical
information for assessing the political stability of a major
trading partner or responding to health and environmental
crises. For Chinese people, the stakes are even higher. In the
age of microblogs and circumvention tools, independent
international reporting and media outlets offer a vital source
of information on matters with life-or-death consequences.
Absent a concerted international response to Chinese
Government obstructions, the situation is likely to further
deteriorate as China's international role expands alongside a
deep sense of insecurity by the Chinese Communist Party at
In terms of actions that the U.S. Government might take in
response, Freedom House, like CPJ, was quite pleased to see
Vice President Biden raising this issue, both privately and
publicly during his recent visit to China.
However, such statements must be backed up with real action
and some form of sanctions if the Chinese Government does not
heed those warnings, otherwise there will be a sense that
they've called our bluff.
As the U.S. Government explores possible responses, I would
just raise this point, that this isn't only an issue faced by
American news organizations in China, so Freedom House would
really strongly recommend taking a multi-lateral approach and
consulting with like-minded governments in Europe, Australia,
and Japan to formulate a united stance.
Thank you again. Thank you for the opportunity to
participate in this roundtable.
Mr. Liu. Thank you, Sarah, and thank you to all the great
panelists, for sharing very important and timely information
with us today.
I would just explain the format of our roundtables. The
staff of the CECC has some questions that we would like to ask.
After we are done, we'll open it up to the floor for the
general public to ask questions. We have two mikes, one on this
side and one on this side. When the time comes to open the
floor for questions, we'll just ask you to raise your hand if
you do have a question and we'll try to get to as many of you
as possible. I am sure that many of you have a lot of questions
But first we'll start with some of our questions. I just
kind of want to get really a free-flowing discussion going.
There seems to be multiple elements to this issue, one of them
being a trade issue in terms of blocking Web sites and
preventing news content from news organizations like the New
York Times and Bloomberg, preventing that from being accessible
Do any of you have a sense of the scope of the losses in
revenue and sort of what kind of impact that is having? Are you
guys measuring that at all? Is there a way to quantify that or
Mr. Wong. The Times had its Web sites blocked starting in
October 2012. We had opened the Chinese-language Web site with
the intent of generating revenue from advertising that would be
aimed at the Chinese-language market. I haven't done any
independent research into this.
I know that our public editor there, Margaret Sullivan, had
published a column last Sunday that said she believes the Web
site had lost around 3 million, a potential of 3 million since
the blocking began. But those are her numbers. I don't have any
numbers directly from the company.
Ms. Beech. TIME's Web site was blocked for several years
but it was before the growth of social media, and I think the
dependence that a lot of Chinese have on foreign news. I think
every story that Edward and I write is somehow translated,
sometimes incorrectly, into Chinese and it is disseminated on
Weibo and other Chinese social media sites.
So I think there is a trade issue but there is also the
impact that foreign journalists can have on the Chinese
understanding their country better simply because Chinese
journalists are under such onerous censorship conditions.
I think a lot of the stories that we get as Chinese
journalists are those from tips from Chinese journalists who
can't publish something on their own. Then they will come to us
and say, ``Hey, why don't you look into this? '' It's a
testament to their journalists' professionalism that we are
able to do some of the things that we do.
So I think that, yes, there is an economic component but
there is also a social and political component that I think is
very important for the Chinese people themselves.
Mr. Dietz. I won't get into the finances of it. Frankly,
that's the other side of the street that I work. But in terms
of impact, the foreign journalists' impact in China, I think
the New York Times articles and some of the earlier Bloomberg
work was really an indicator of how threatening that is to the
In China there's most likely scores of tens of thousands of
demonstrations every year at a village or township level, and
most of those are protesting some sort of abuse, corruption, or
a combination of the two.
The general Chinese population is accustomed to seeing and
dealing with this corruption at a local level, but when you do
the sort of work that the New York Times has done, showing that
Party leaders and the central government is also tinged or
tainted by corruption, you begin to really threaten and
undermine the power of the Party.
I don't want to make too much of this, but I think people
tend to feel that their central government is somehow better
than what they are seeing at the local level or at least
they're putting their faith in the Party to somehow be better
than that. Undercutting that faith in the central government is
what will bring down the hammer on your head in China.
Hannah, Edward, you can most likely tell these stories
better than I, but when you're reporting at a local level
you'll very often run into a bunch of thugs or cops or local
Party officials with a gang who's going to shove you around,
take your film, harass you, get the local police to rough you
up or something like that.
That is part of the deal of reporting in China, and you are
allowed to report on that in China. You pretty much can go to a
village like that and report on that sort of abuse. But what is
dangerous is to take on the central government and that central
authority. And when that appears in a Western paper you think
it's limited to Western media. But in fact that sort of
information, almost by osmosis, enters into the social media
platforms that are operating through China. The social media
platforms are maybe the biggest engines of change in China
Ms. Cook. I would just second Bob's point in terms of, the
Party's propaganda narratives. They focus very much on this
idea that you can trust the center, but then put blame on the
local officials. So, it is really how stories about top
leaders' family undermine that particular narrative, which
makes them so sensitive.
Regarding the financial implications, as I was doing the
research on this report, we did actually look up the stock
prices, the value for the New York Times on the day that the
Web site was blocked, both the English and Chinese edition.
There was a pretty dramatic drop in the value of the stocks
that day, so it seemed like some investors, at least, felt like
the idea of having a Chinese-language Web site that would be
able to reach Chinese audiences maybe wasn't going to be
The stocks seemed to climb back in value over the following
months, but I think it can give an example of how certain
investors may almost inadvertently punish a news organization
financially for doing good reporting because now it seems like
certain elements of their business model are not going to be
I think that would be the other thing I would say, and
besides Western news outlets, it is even more the case for
Chinese-language news outlets which attempt to be independent.
The Chinese Government's obstructions make it very difficult to
follow a traditional business model as in a normal setting in
terms of media sustainability where you are relying on
advertising. There is this whole level of unpredictability, you
do not know who your audience is or will be in the future.
Actually, it is when you're becoming effective and reaching
large audiences, that you are most likely to be obstructed. So
you end up with these kind of, more in the Chinese language,
these very strange and counter-intuitive situations where
sometimes the less popular media outlets that are closer to the
Chinese Government may get more advertising and revenue than
some other more open media outlets or aggressive media outlets
because advertisers are afraid of advertising with the latter.
So it is not just a trade issue, I think, it is also this
issue of trying to tweak the economic incentives under which
media entities operate. The other, I would say, is the long-
term implications. So for Bloomberg--actually, the number of
terminals that Bloomberg has in China isn't that many relative
to other parts of the world, but clearly there's a lot of
potential to grow.
So the fact that this part of their business, which is
actually how they gain revenue much more so than via their Web
site. They don't have Chinese-language Web sites, only an
English-language Web site, and how many people really read that
I think that is where the pressure can come, where you have
this business plan of expansion and all of a sudden that gets
cut short because of a certain kind of reporting, and that is
where the Chinese Government is very good at manipulating the
leverage they hold.
Mr. Liu. I wanted to go back to Edward and Hannah. Do you
have a sense of maybe, in your interactions with Chinese
officials, both before and after President Xi Jinping took
office, any shifts and sort of what might be driving some of
the actions or some of the delays that we are witnessing now?
Was it the articles that could be probably one of the main sort
of turning points, or are there other external factors at play?
Mr. Wong. I think that in this case--I mean, there's been a
lot of analysis of the ideological character of the leadership
since Xi Jinping took power and the other six members of the
Standing Committee took power last November. But in our
conversations and in the conversations that the Times has had
with Chinese officials repeatedly since last October when the
first story on the finances of the Prime Minister's family was
published, they repeatedly said that writing these kinds of
stories, stories about the leadership, its financial ties and
its assets, will not be tolerated in China.
I know that Bloomberg News, which had done the same type of
reporting, has had the same types of conversations with Chinese
officials. So at least in the way they've expressed it to us,
it's very article-focused, it's focused on this type of
But as you know, these types of articles are a very narrow
strand of reporting that we can just put aside or that anyone
would want to put aside. Like, these articles get to the heart
of the nexus between the Party and the economy, and I think
Bob, in his explanation, characterized their impact very
succinctly. In the conversations we've had they've definitely
pinned the obstacles that we're facing on the fact that we
publish these articles.
Ms. Beech. Just to add to that, I think that the two
previous cases, one of Melissa Chan of Al Jezeera and Paul
Mooney of Reuters, are of a slightly different ilk because
clearly, although we have never been given an explanation as to
why they didn't get their visas, but we presume it is because
of relatively hard-hitting human rights reporting and not about
reporting about high-level officials, which is the types of
things that the New York Times and Bloomberg have been focusing
on, as Edward said.
I think the other issue is a solution-based issue, which
is, from the foreign community's perspective, what carrots and
sticks do we have to be able to convince the Chinese Government
that they should accord the kinds of rights to both Chinese
citizens, and to a lesser extent to foreign journalists, that
the Constitution of China presents to them as being part of
their life in China.
You look at--China is the second-largest economy in the
world. It has acceded to the WTO. It successfully hosted the
Beijing Olympics. There are a lot of things, a lot of
situations in which there could have been pressure that could
be borne on the Chinese Government, and those types of issues
in which there can be some sort of negotiation to try to better
the human rights situation are fewer and fewer. So, I don't
know what the answer is. There's obviously this issue of
reciprocity, which has foes and adherents as well.
But I think it is increasingly difficult to think of a way
in which the foreign community can convince the Chinese
Government that the way that they're treating both foreign
journalists and Chinese media, and with this crackdown on
dissidents, scholars, and other people who speak out is not
necessarily the best thing for the country.
Mr. Dietz. Just to develop that a little bit, I think what
we're seeing now in China is a crackdown, a change in
philosophy, governmental philosophy, and a hardening of the
attitude toward media in China. But over the years, these
things have always been cyclical. There have always been more
open periods, closed periods, open periods, and you can really
see them come and go over the years.
Before the Xi government came into place, if you were to
speak to Chinese journalists--we must not have a simplified
image of Chinese journalists who are a bunch of Party hacks,
repressed Party hacks who dare not stray out of the Party line.
If you were to have spoken to many Chinese journalists prior to
the arrival of the Xi government, you would have found that
they felt they were in something they were calling a Golden
Age. While there were plenty of restrictions and plenty of
guidelines and a steady stream of directives from the Central
Propaganda Department they felt that, more than any time in the
past, they could go out and pursue stories, stay ahead of the
curve of the propaganda directives coming down, and play a role
in Chinese society that they had not been able to play in the
There were earlier periods, too, in which that happened as
well. But I think what we're seeing now is something going
downhill. I don't know if we've hit the bottom and I am afraid
how far downhill it will go. But it doesn't mean right now that
this is the end of freedom of journalism, freedom of speech or
journalism in China.
I think what this is at this point is a new government
asserting its authority, trying to gain control of an
increasingly, for them, unruly media world, driven by domestic
media, driven by foreign media, but even more so driven by
social media, which just keeps bubbling up from the bottom. It
is the source of information for Chinese journalists who are
covering stories who say, ``We didn't know this was happening,
let's cover it.''
Is it going to be like this all the time in China? In the
past we have seen that these restrictive periods do not always
last. Right now there does really appear to be a crackdown and
a real intent to suppress not just dissent, but even discussion
to some extent in China.
Mr. Liu. Thank you.
I will turn it over to our Deputy Staff Director, who works
for Congressman Chris Smith, Paul Protic. I think he has a
question he would like to ask you.
Mr. Protic. Thank you, Mr. Liu, and thank you to our
Can you further describe your dealings with Chinese
officials? Have they told you not to cover certain stories
Mr. Wong. At the Times, we have met with Chinese officials
at various levels. Our publisher, Arthur Salzberger, has met
with them. Reporters in the bureau have met with them in
different meetings and they have admonished us at varying times
for different kinds of stories. In the current round of
difficulties we're facing, as I said, they've talked and
they've focused on stories about the leadership and finances of
the leadership's families.
In the past, they have lectured us on other types of
coverage, for example, coverage of Tibet issues, coverage of
protests, certain types of protests in China such as during the
Jasmine Revolution period where there was no real Jasmine
Revolution, but there were calls for protests on the Internet
and the Western news media covered it widely. Many Western
reporters, including ones from our bureau, were called in to be
lectured by various Chinese officials.
So in the last year, the lecture has been focused on these
stories focused on personal finances. I have seen reports
recently, including by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, that
diplomats for China have told other reporters like Evan that
they believe the Times and Bloomberg are out to overthrow the
They have also said, for example, that the Times is trying
to act like the Central Discipline Inspection Committee of
China, which is sort of the Party's internal corruption
investigation agency. So obviously even in those conversations
they're focused on the stories that we're doing about the
leadership, and those are conversations they're having with
other reporters, not with us.
Ms. Beech. I think one of the basic misconceptions that
exists between the Foreign Ministry officials that I've met
with is that there is still, as one of you mentioned, an
assumption that we somehow work for the Chinese Government and
that we reflect some sort of directive from Washington, which
as most of you know is definitely not the case.
So that informs the discussion, so you spend the first part
of the discussion saying, ``Well, actually, we don't work for
the U.S. Government, we work for media organizations that are
independent.'' There are certain no-go issues. In the
conversations that I've had and the lectures that I've been
brought in to listen to at the Foreign Ministry, things like
Edward said, Tibet, Xinjiang, these autonomous regions that are
considered ethnically sensitive and ones that are very
complicated. I've done very little on the wealth accrued by
major Communist Party families, so that's his bailiwick.
But I will say that there are, as I said, no-go areas where
you just do not go, anything Tibet. I've gotten called in
probably three or four times to talk about Tibetan issues. I
have one slight disagreement in terms of the central and local
When I was based in Shanghai it was during SARS. For some
magical reason, a lot of places around Shanghai had suspected,
or even confirmed, SARS cases and Shanghai kept on saying that
there weren't any. There were suspected cases but there were
not actually cases. I did some reporting and actually found
some cases of SARS in Shanghai.
The local government, much more than the central
government, was very upset because this made Shanghai, the
commercial center of China, look very bad. I was actually sued
for libel in a court, I believe in Washington State, and this
court case went on and on and I actually was not very involved
in the resolution of it.
But in addition, I got called in to the Foreign Ministry in
Shanghai many times. The Shanghai Foreign Ministry officials
found out that I had not gone to journalism school and they
thought that it would be correct for them to bring in a Chinese
journalism professor to lecture me on journalistic ethics.
So I sat there for many hours and we went through, this is
the inverted pyramid and this is what you're supposed to do as
a foreign journalist. You just nod and take it because you want
to be able to cover China, and I wasn't getting beaten up, I
wasn't going through the kinds of things that foreign
journalists in Russia go through, which is to get assassinated.
So, it seemed a small price to pay to learn about journalism
from a Chinese professor.
Ms. Cook. I would just second, I think, the point that
Hannah raised earlier about the cases of Paul, and also Melissa
Chan, where it did seem as much about the journalists
themselves, or in Melissa Chan's case it wasn't clear if it was
even about a report that her colleagues in the United States
had done about labor camps.
But I think with Paul, it sounded like, from what I heard
from him in terms of some of his conversations with Chinese
officials, that there were in some cases specific stories that
they presented to him and hoped that he would be more objective
in the future.
But I think it is one of those issues where you just have
somebody who really understands China, has contacts in the
activist community and has proven that he is able to dig up
certain stories that might not otherwise see the light of day.
I think that they are quite worried about somebody like
that, especially in the age of microblogs, like Bob had
mentioned, where so much of this information is able to circle
back into China, which is different from, say, 10 years ago.
Mr. Liu. Thank you. Jesse Heatley of our staff, I think,
has a question for you guys.
Mr. Heatley. Sure. I'd like to thank the panelists today. I
have a quick question. Bob had mentioned that the lapse of
visas or the failure to renew visas might go through, but it
might not. If the visas are not renewed, what does that mean
for the New York Times and Bloomberg? Can the New York Times or
Bloomberg cover China from outside China? How will the coverage
change, and what are the prospects?
Mr. Wong. I don't think we would have a choice other than
to keep covering China from outside. I mean, Chris Buckley is
one example. His visa for Reuters expired and the government
did not grant him one for the Times last year, so then he's
been writing about China, and especially about Chinese
politics, from Hong Kong for us. We all think that obviously
his reports would be more robust if he were in Beijing. He's
done a very good job from Hong Kong because he's such an
experienced China watcher, and such an experienced journalist
reporting on these issues.
But I think that we would have less access to sources, we
would have less sense of what's going on on the ground. Our
stories would lack sort of the voices of ordinary Chinese, as
well as people from the elite classes. I think that we would
lose a sense of the nuances of what's going on in China, the
entire spectrum of issues.
I'm not just talking about the sort of stories that would
be investigative or hard-hitting in nature, but also the sort
of stories about lifestyle or about culture. These stories are
just as important to our coverage of China, I think. The
public, I think, would get a more monochromatic view of China
if we were writing about China from outside.
Ms. Beech. I can't obviously speak on the New York Times
case. A friend of ours who is an American journalist based in
China was joking that we should all open news bureaus in Taipei
and see how that works as a listening post. I think Hong Kong
has gone back to being a listening post for China, which is on
the one hand--there are a lot of interesting people who come
through Hong Kong, but that is, again as Edward said, not an
I think part of the issue is that it is very difficult as
foreign journalists in China to talk to Chinese officials. You
rarely get called in unless you've done something wrong and you
get a lecture. The irony is that personal relationships matter
in any society and they matter a lot in China, and I think
humanizing Chinese officials, getting to know them, getting to
know what makes them tick, how they started with the hard-
scrabble lifestyle and they've risen to great heights, I mean,
that kind of access would make them into humanized people that
we could really write about in a much more well-balanced way.
This kind of faceless Chinese leadership, the fact that
Edward, I, and others are spending all this time trying to find
out the tiniest details to illuminate who these people are,
that is not helpful for trying to create a well-rounded,
sophisticated understanding of China. I would say that if
there's any lesson that the Foreign Ministry might want to take
from this experience is that honey works.
Mr. Liu. Thank you.
Do we have any more questions? Okay. I think we'll open it
to the floor now for those who have questions. Please limit
yourself to one question. This is on the record, so if you
don't want to identify yourself you do not have to. Again,
please just limit yourself to one question and raise your hand
if you have a question and we'll bring a mike over to you.
Okay. Sure. The gentleman over here in the front.
Mr. Nelson. My name is Mark Nelson. I'm from the Center for
International Media Assistance [CIMA] here in DC. I'm just
wondering to what extent this issue is being covered in the
Chinese media and how much awareness there is of this in China,
and to what extent it's a reflection of the state of media
development in China itself. Would a stronger and more open
media, Chinese media, help resolve issues like this in the
Mr. Liu. Does anyone want to take that?
Mr. Wong. I haven't seen much coverage of this in the
Chinese media. There's been a lot of coverage in the last week,
for example, of this issue following Vice President Biden's
trip to China, but I haven't seen this issue brought up in any
of the Chinese coverage of that trip. So I think that it's not
an issue that they talk about a lot.
I saw today or yesterday that on Asia Society's ChinaFile
Web site there was a senior reporter/editor for China Daily
U.S. who spoke out about this issue, and his viewpoint was that
he was saying that the United States should not engage in visa
reciprocity because two wrongs don't make a right, which is
interesting because it implies that he believes that this visa
delay or denial is a wrong.
So I am hoping that he'll communicate his viewpoints and
also the conversations that are going on in Washington to his
superiors in Beijing, but other than that I haven't seen any
Chinese journalists write about this or speak out about this.
Mr. Liu. Okay. Yes, go ahead.
Ms. Cook. I think in some of the Hong Kong papers you've
seen discussion. I think Chang Ping maybe wrote about it. He is
a Chinese journalist who is now in Germany, probably because he
had trouble getting a visa to work in Hong Kong, actually.
I think he wrote it in Chinese and then it was translated
into English, but I haven't seen much in the Chinese-language
media. I would just acknowledge that the report that much of my
testimony had come from was written for CIMA, so they have a
lot to do with the knowledge that I was able to share with all
of you today.
Mr. Liu. Great. Thank you. Hi. Yes, over here.
Ms. Liu. My name is Diamond Liu. There is a famous saying
that, ``Democracy is only one generation from being wiped
out.'' Democracy is more fragile than we take it to be. What is
happening to you now, I can say with some historical
perspective, is what was happening in China in the 1940s. They
were unable to stand up and they lost everything.
Now, there is one thing I think that democratic leaders do
not understand. For a place to remain democratic, they need a
free press, a vigorous free press. I thank the committee for
organizing this hearing. But I do fault our democratic leader
for not standing up strongly enough, defending free journalism.
And I agree with Sarah completely that we need a multilateral
response, a moldable response, not just one response. It has to
Now, I would like to ask a question now. On December 8, the
human rights date, there was a mass suicide on Tiananmen Square
which was reported in the social media in China. I do not know
if any of you are aware of that incident. I was not able to
find any other coverage.
From what I could gather, these petitioners who are not
sophisticated have no connection to foreign media. When I sent
a photograph of the people slumped on the ground on Tiananmen
to some friends in Beijing, some journalist friends, they
received my email with no content. So they are very efficient
in censoring even email. I wonder if any of you have heard of
this or have seen any coverage of this. Thank you.
Ms. Beech. I must admit that I was on the airplane and
coming to the United States on December 8, so I am probably not
the right person to talk to. But I would say that it is a truth
among journalists that we talk to cabbies and get their view of
what's going on in the country, but I would be hard pressed to
find a Beijing taxi driver who does not know about the New York
Times series on the financial allegations that the Times has
made against top leaders or their families within China.
So I think a lot more information does trickle down despite
the fact that Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, is
constantly blocked and shepherded by state censors. There's
still enough out there and there's an appetite among the
Chinese for this information that I think is helping to drive
the foreign press and Chinese press.
One of the things that happens with the Chinese press is
oftentimes--let's say you're based in southern China and you
can't write about something that's happening in southern China,
but you can send a tip to your friend in northern China who
isn't bound by the same local officials and say, ``Hey, why
don't you write a story about what's going on? ''
So there are ways around it and information travels much
more freely than it used to. I think we've reached the point,
whether you want to call it the middle-income trap or this idea
where political reform--I think among even people who have made
a lot of money in China, that they want political reform, at
least legal reform, to be able to protect the money that they
I think that that impulse will cause them to push for more
freedom of information. Does that mean that they want foreign
journalists to be running around the country? Maybe no, but it
does mean that access to information, whether it's business
news, even human rights news, matters, is seen as mattering
more to their future livelihoods because they've reached a
level of economic success and you want the next step, which is
Mr. Wong. I would say, just to add to that and to make a
point that sort of underscores the various ways in which the
foreign media seems important within China, not just by readers
outside of China, is that Hannah talked about, for example, an
example where a Chinese journalist who can't report on a
subject might give a tip to a foreign journalist. But there are
also examples of, once a foreign organization reports a lot on
certain topics, then that opens up the path for conversation
for that topic within the Chinese media.
So one example we noticed was that of air pollution, that
this is something that the foreign media had been reporting on
for the last couple of years. It's a fairly obvious issue for
anyone living in China. The U.S. Embassy also has been trying
to widen public discourse about this because they were
concerned that probably their own employees were suffering the
effects of the air.
But in any case, the foreign media had been reporting on
it, and then because of a particularly bad bout of air
pollution last January, then due to the widespread coverage in
foreign media and to other pressures coming from within China,
the state media started writing front-page stories about this
I think that there's a dialectic going on between the
foreign media and the state media, and it's not black and
white. We're not seen as enemies and oftentimes Chinese
journalists want to be able to have cover for writing their own
stories about topics and we help provide part of that
I think that's important and I think for ordinary Chinese
and also for Chinese officials, there are many officials in
various agencies that want to see these reports being put out
there by the foreign media and by the state media. I think
they're grateful that the Times is there, that TIME Magazine is
there and that others are there, and we are hopeful that they
can engage in a dialogue with whatever officials are in charge
of the visa process.
Mr. Dietz. Just to develop that thought a little bit more,
I think what we're seeing in China is that the media crackdown
is not working, frankly, that this is a government racing to
try to stay at the head of the parade and in doing so tripping
and stumbling a lot.
This air pollution issue, which was really the most obvious
thing to everyone who had been in China, has been around for a
terribly long time but now is just current and currently
discussed in media.
I say the crackdown is not working, but what I'm worried
about is that because of this drive of social media that the
government is going to crack down harder, it's going to try
more and more to stay at the head of this very fast-moving
digitally powered parade.
You're seeing an increasing demand from consumers, not just
wealthy business people who want to protect their billions but
just normal middle class--and there's a tremendously emerging,
rapidly emerging middle class in China--media consumers who are
expecting better and better media coverage of the world in
which they live, and they're really demanding it. Chinese
media, when they can, try and meet that demand.
Even when journalists have run afoul of the government,
it's gotten to a point now where people are not being thrown
off in jail or sent off. Offenders might be demoted, but
there's a series of warnings and levels of warnings that
editors ``get.'' Editors are savvy enough to know how far they
can go on stories, but they also know that they're getting a
demand for better reporting from the readership. And there's
also a commercial demand.
Other than several flagship newspapers and CCTV, most media
in China operate pretty much the way Western media do, having
to rely on sources of income through advertising or readership.
The government is looking at this and they are caught in a
terrible quandary of, how are we going to control this, meet
the demand, modernize this nation, satisfy an emerging middle
So much of the middle class now travels outside of China,
they go to Europe, the United Sates. They travel around and
they see what the rest of the world is doing and they want more
of that. It is that demand, the social media, which are just--
I've said it so many times already today, but it's just driving
from underneath the expectations of the Chinese people, that
the government, I'm afraid, is going to mistakenly try and
crack down harder.
We've said that this is very much an open situation with
these 24 or so visas, and who knows which way it will go. I
have a secret fear in the back of my head, and I've been told
to make no predictions here, but there's a great concern that
there will be this ham-fisted response from the government of
saying we're going to show these people once and for all they
can't do this in our country and really come down much more
heavily than necessary or is appropriate on these news
organizations, hoping to intimidate the rest of the foreign
media in China.
Hannah's article, ``Foreign Correspondents in China Do Not
Censor Themselves To Get Visas'' is a must read. It is your
lead article on your blog, right Hannah? Foreign journalists
don't. But foreign journalists will tell you that they are
under pressure. They're aware of this visa pressure, but I'm
just not aware of anyone who's trimmed back coverage--and of
course I know the accusations being made against Bloomberg.
I think that I'm worried that this government is going to
get harder and stupider before it gets smarter and realizes
it's not going to be able to win this battle, not just against
foreign media but against Chinese media as well.
Ms. Cook. Looking back on the events of the last few
months, especially in terms of social media, I think the
landscape has actually become much more pessimistic than it
was. We've really seen a crackdown.
To go back to the air pollution example, some of the ``Big
V'' users who were very instrumental in promoting discussion
specifically related to PM2.5 have been among those
on the receiving end of the social media crackdown that has
been unfolding since the spring.
What's been interesting, in this case, is that in many ways
it's been a much more sophisticated form of crackdown than
previous ones. The authorities have used various approaches,
including setting examples with televised confessions and
issuing judicial guidelines that would impose very high prison
sentences for people who write something that gets re-Tweeted
500 times or clicked on 5,000 times.
We don't know of any cases where anybody has actually been
sentenced to prison on such charges, but from the conversations
we've had with people, including people who follow Chinese
social media more closely than I do, it's really had a chilling
There is a kind of social engineering sophistication to how
the authorities are approaching the crackdown to encourage
people to self censor so that they do not actually have to come
down so hard from a technical or prosecutorial standpoint. With
this visa issue you also see these kinds of murky incentives--
carrots and sticks that are used to try to encourage self-
censorship. I think the challenge often is not so much the
level of the journalist, but manifests in some cases as debates
happening internally at higher levels of media organizations.
And these are very tough decisions.
I mean, it's easy to look from the outside. These are very
tough decisions for media organizations, especially in the
current financial situation many media face. There is the sales
department, the editorial team, and you have clashes among
these different actors, with senior executives having to make
very tough decisions about coverage in some cases.
The Chinese Government is very good at pressing these
buttons to make decisions, that in many other media
environments would be no-brainers, much more of an issue and
kind of raising the bar to whether certain newsworthy stories
are covered or not. So I would say that with regard to foreign
media, we are also seeing a higher level of sophistication in
the ways in which the authorities are trying to manage and get
a grip on a news environment that they're having much more
Unfortunately, from a number of the people that I've spoken
to, there is a sense that some of the stories--whether it was
the air pollution, the labor camps, or other issues that came
up last year and really pushed real changes on the part of the
government--that you wouldn't be able to see those dynamics
happening now after the chilling effect that has happened in
social media. But, hopefully we will be pleasantly surprised in
the coming months and will see more of these kinds of stories
popping up again.
Mr. Liu. Okay. Let's try to get a few more questions in.
Yes, the gentleman in the back there.
Mr. Fay. Hi, my name is Greg Fay. I'm with the Uyghur Human
Rights Project. Hannah, you mentioned a few times that you've
been called in by officials to talk about your reporting on
Tibet, and I'm just curious how that has affected your
reporting on Tibet and how you think that official pressure has
affected reporting about Uyghur issues as well.
Last year the Committee to Protect Journalists published a
statistic that over half of all journalists detained in China
were Tibetans or Uyghurs, so I'm also wondering, how do you
deal with the safety of your colleagues and also of your
Tibetan and Uyghur sources? Thank you.
Ms. Beech. This is from a personal perspective. I'm
relatively pig-headed. If somebody tells me not to do
something, I have a compulsion to want to do it. So I don't
feel like it has made me moderate my coverage of ethnic issues,
particularly with Tibet and Xinjiang.
I think you bring up a very good point in terms of Chinese
sources and Chinese assistance, because the worst thing that
will happen to somebody like Edward and me is that we get
kicked out of China, which is a shame because we spent all this
time committed to trying to understand the place. Our Chinese
sources, our Chinese fixers, our Chinese staff are under much
more greater pressure and they are the ones who get sent to
jail, who get beaten up, who get intimidated on a regular
So the balance that I think that we have to strike is not
so much--for me as a journalist who doesn't have to worry as
much about the business side of my company is to ensure the
safety of those people. So whether that means using different
names for people, obscuring some of the details, making sure
that you go places in a way where you don't attract attention,
those are all things that you really have to plan much more
than you would if you were going to an area that was more Han-
But I think Xinjiang and Tibet, and to a lesser extent the
Inner Mongolia issue, those are really tough issues. I think in
the coming months and years, especially after there is new
leadership within ethnic communities, that this is going to
become an even greater issue that we will have to cover.
Ms. Cook. I think with the Uyghur issue, I don't remember
if it was Edward who wrote this story or not for the Times, but
this example highlights some of the reasons why the Chinese
Government is so afraid of allowing foreign journalists into
Back in 2008, there was some form of a clash supposedly
between Uyghur assailants and Chinese military. The Chinese
media and the press were kind of playing this up as an attack,
an example of militant Islamic separatism or something.
Then a few months later, or a year later, there was an
article, I think, in the Times about there had been some
Western tourists there who had actually seen the incident
happen. They were saying it was all very strange because it was
actually uniformed policemen or military men using machetes
against other uniformed military men. It is, I think, a really
important article to highlight. It happened to be that you had
these other witnesses who were there that could lend real
weight to questions about the credibility of an assertion and a
spin that the Chinese state media had put on the event. That
spin had reinforced official narratives that are then used to
suppress Uyghurs and gain cooperation from other governments
that there are these supposed Uyghur terrorists.
I think that just highlights the importance of when
journalists are able to get into Tibet or into Xinjiang, the
kind of eyewitnesses they can be, the way they can be the eyes
and ears on the ground for the world and can question these
state-run narratives. This is really important. I think that is
also why the Chinese Government is so restrictive about whether
they allow them in or not.
Mr. Stein. Thank you. Todd Stein with the International
Campaign for Tibet. To follow up on that question, Ms. Beech,
you mentioned the no-go on those issues. To what extent--on the
writing on those issues. To what extent are those no-go areas?
What is your freedom to travel within the country, what
restrictions do you face? That 2008 Olympic promise on
journalist access throughout the country, to what extent is
that honored or is it just ditched?
Has there been any change in levels of freedom to travel in
recent months as this issue we're talking about has sort of
Ms. Beech. I think one of the issues with rules and
regulations in China is that they are not always enforced, and
they are enforced subjectively and they grow in certain ways.
So when there was a supposed Jasmine Revolution following the
Arab Spring in China, which really turned out to be nothing, we
were essentially told as foreign correspondents in Beijing that
we could not visit an area which is one of the main shopping
districts in Beijing.
So we were allowed to report anywhere in China except for
this place. I mean, the rules shift. In terms of going into
Tibetan regions in Western Sichuan, Qinghai, and obviously the
Tibet Autonomous Region, there are often roadblocks. Even if
you get through the roadblocks, you don't sort of want to go
into the tradecraft, but there are ways in which you try to
evade the roadblocks. Several journalists have been able to get
in and they have been able to--even though oftentimes the roads
are lined with security forces.
It is not an ideal reporting condition, so you get in there
really quickly and then you get out of there really quickly. So
does this provide nuanced, objective reporting? No, but it's
sort of the best that we can do. At least in the case of the
Tibetan community, and to a lesser extent with the Uyghur
community, there are a lot of people in Dharamsala and within
the exiled Tibetan community who try to disseminate
Now, obviously you have to take that with a grain of salt
because they are advocates and they are trying to advocate a
certain perspective on the situation in Tibet, so you're
constantly trying to balance, is this an extremist activist, is
this a normal counter-narrative to Beijing's side of things?
It's a lot of factors that you're having to put together into a
story that you hope is as objective as possible, but it's
Mr. Liu. Okay. One more question.
Participant. I have one question for the panel. Before
that, I have some thoughts to share. If we know in terms of a
military power the United States is much stronger than China,
but if we don't take this media issue seriously I'm afraid that
we're already losing to China before a war is waged because the
Chinese regime knows how important this media is. The
information that people get determines how they think. How they
think determines how they act.
Now, if we look at the four entities here, the Chinese
regime, Chinese people, the American Government, and Americans
and see what they do to each other, the Chinese regime controls
all the media, domestic media, so that the Chinese people do
not get accurate information. Also, they block the free
reporting by the foreign journalists so that American people do
not get accurate information.
At the same time, they have all the media in this country,
propaganda media, China Daily, in their news racks throughout
Washington, DC, and also their TV channels are on cable in all
the metro areas. So my question is, what would the panelists
suggest the U.S. Government do to change this imbalance?
Mr. Wong. The New York Times does not have a position on
any policies under consideration, and I personally don't have
any position to offer myself, either.
Ms. Beech. I would second that. I'm not a politician. I'm
not in the U.S. Government. I don't really have an ability to
be able to recommend a particular policy. I mean, I would say
that despite the fact that there is blocking on either side,
that information does get out. It does get out through Weibo,
it does get out through Weixin, and that taxi driver example
that I mentioned before shows that even people who might not
have much invested in these issues know what's going on, and
even though there is constant censorship of key search words on
Weibo, that there is an interplay of information.
Now, the question with Weibo, and it's a good one, is like
any Internet, online forum, does it represent two extreme
views? If you've got sort of a crazy from the right and a crazy
from the left, how do you collate those and get a more
objective perspective on what the Chinese people are thinking
for 1.3 billion people. Of course, it's impossible. I think, as
foreign journalists, we sometimes over-emphasize that as a
barometer of how we measure Chinese opinion, and that is partly
because there are not that many other avenues to do so.
Mr. Dietz. I'm not at all convinced that China is winning
the propaganda war. I don't think it's winning the war at home.
I think, as I've said several times before today, I think it's
rushing to stay ahead of the demand for information from an
increasingly savvy public.
One thing I noticed China doing in countries other than
Western countries is expanding its soft power and really
replicating what the United States has been doing for many
years of using international radio broadcasts, television
stations, influencing African media or media in other
We see Chinese influence in Hong Kong where the media is
becoming increasingly centralized and very discreetly but very
obviously beholden to political power in Beijing, and frankly
we see the same thing happening more on a commercial basis in
Taiwan. But I don't see right now China winning a propaganda
war, U.S. versus China. I'm not convinced that that's working
I think even if Bloomberg, AP, New York Times, and the
Washington Post were kicked out of Beijing, that that would
mean China would win a war like that. Actually, I should really
pull that back right away. I don't think it's a war, I think
it's a conflict. I'm not moderating that in some way to
diminish it, but it's not a battle going on, it's something
much more subtle. I just don't think that China is winning
that. I don't think they're winning it at home and I don't
think they're really winning it in the developed countries.
What I do look at is in developing countries where I think
they're more subtle and have a greater control over media which
might be less experienced or sophisticated.
Mr. Liu. Okay. Thank you.
I wanted to give the panel--oh. Sorry, go ahead.
Ms. Cook. Is it okay if I respond to that question real
Mr. Liu. Yes. Sure.
Ms. Cook. I guess I would just say that I think on this
question of the reciprocity of whether we don't provide visas
to, say, Chinese state-run media who come to the United States,
I think that's wrapped up with lots of different challenges,
including the fact that those journalists aren't the ones
making these decisions.
I would be more in favor of having any kind of
reciprocation be targeted at officials, Chinese officials. Say,
perhaps it could be diplomatic credentials that may be delayed,
a visa for someone from the Foreign Ministry who is coming
here, something along those lines.
I don't know how often people from the Public Security
Bureau try to get U.S. visas, but there would be lots of
reasons to deny a visa to someone from the Public Security
Bureau based on some of the criteria and possibly human rights
abuses they may have been involved with, even absent of the
issue of the foreign journalists.
So I think that's where there would be ways to maybe think
about how to apply pressure to the people who are making these
decisions, or at least close to the people making these
decisions. The other thing is I tend to agree with Bob.
Chinese-language media is a very different landscape compared
to English-language media.
With English-language media, there is kind of a long way to
go for the Chinese Government's influence to really infiltrate.
I think it really behooves Americans to understand what China
Daily is. They are very subtle in saying this is a leading
English-language newspaper in China, and most Americans don't
really know what that means.
So I don't think it's necessarily the role of the U.S.
Government, I think it's maybe the role of organizations like
Freedom House, CPJ, or others, or journalists who are writing
about these stories to inform the U.S. public about what that
means and who owns China Daily, because that is probably the
best protection for Americans to at least be more aware and
open-eyed when they're reading the articles in these state-run
Chinese media outlets.
Mr. Liu. Okay. Well, thank you so much for coming. I want
to give you guys an opportunity, if you have any last comments,
otherwise we can wrap it up.
Did you have any?
Ms. Beech. Just to quickly follow up with an anecdote from
Mr. Liu. Sure.
Ms. Beech. Back when SARS was--we didn't quite know what
SARS was. I went through lectures from the Foreign Ministry,
and then they brought in the state security guy and that is
sort of a step up and it's scarier.
I said, ``So where are we going to meet? '' He wanted to
meet at the Starbucks, the Xi Tian Di, in Shanghai, which seems
sort of an unusual place to meet the state security man.
Anyway, he gave me a very pro forma lecture on journalism and
how what I was doing was not helpful for U.S.-China relations,
and I should tell my bosses in New York. I said, ``Well,
actually my boss is in Washington, not New York.''
But anyway, we went on and on about this. But he was a
pleasant guy, and afterward he said, ``Can I ask you a
question? '' I said, ``Yes.'' He said, ``I have a daughter in
school in Shanghai, and do you think that I should take her out
because of SARS? '' This is in 2003.
It occurred to me that we're not talking about a faceless
bureaucracy of people within the Chinese Government. There are
lots of people in the Chinese Government who want the country
to become better and who are committed to it, and they are
worried about their families and they are worried about a lack
So for me, more than any interaction with a Chinese
official, this sort of showed me that there is concern, there
is hope for change. Whether it's on an individual level and
whether that will actually proliferate and mean actual
political reform to connect to the economic reform we have
seen, I don't know, but it was a little ray of hope.
Mr. Dietz. I had no final comments prepared, but this is
just another SARS anecdote. While Hannah was in Shanghai I was
working for the World Health Organization [WHO] in Beijing
doing risk communications and media relations during the SARS
outbreak. For WHO, it was a completely new world of trying to
deal with the world demand for information like that.
I wound up working with a tremendous number of Chinese
journalists and I was just stunned by their competence, by what
they knew and what they couldn't report, and their sense of
responsibility. Even if they couldn't get things into a paper
or on air, they would come and they would sit down and give us
debriefs of their trips to the countryside, the knowledge they
had of the situation, and one of the ways in which the World
Health Organization stayed on top of the situation, to the
extent that we were able to, was through close contacts with
Chinese journalists who were willing to share information which
they couldn't use in their reporting. It formed my opinion of
Chinese journalists, which is just at this point indelible. I
just think you just have to accept that these are wonderfully
competent, hard-working people.
Yes, there are Party hacks and there are people who are
just going in to collect their paychecks. But, just like you
see journalists like these here who are working and engaged
intellectually and are enthusiastic about what they're doing,
there's a vast number of Chinese journalists who were doing the
same thing, playing within a narrower field of rules, but
working with the same integrity that other journalists outside
Mr. Liu. Okay. Well, we're just a few minutes over so we'll
wrap up here. I just want to say one final word to thank each
of you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come here
and share your very important perspectives and helping us to
understand these issues better; obviously it's been in the
headlines for the last week or so. To get your perspectives and
to get your experiences to help contextualize what's going on,
what the situation is, has been extremely helpful. I know that
hopefully things will improve over there.
But with that, thank you all for coming. This roundtable is
[Whereupon, at 5:08 p.m. the roundtable was concluded.]
A P P E N D I X
Statement of The New York Times Submitted by Edward Wong
DECEMBER 11, 2013
In the last year, The New York Times and other major foreign news
organizations have been confronted with deteriorating conditions for
doing journalism in China. The Communist Party and Chinese government
have stepped up their efforts to shape news coverage and suppress
stories they find objectionable, applying pressure in various forms and
in arguably unprecedented fashion. The situation is the most serious in
years and poses an urgent threat to our ability to report freely and
comprehensively on the world's second largest economy.
Most recently, Chinese officials have halted the regular year-end
renewal process for the residency visas of nine Times journalists. If
the renewal process does not go forward, these journalists and their
families will be forced to leave China before the end of the year. With
the first visas expiring in less than two weeks, the Times could be
left without reporters in mainland China for the first time in nearly
The Chinese government has also refused for many months to provide
visas for two journalists hired for the Beijing bureau by the Times.
Philip Pan, the incoming bureau chief, has been waiting more than a
year and a half. Chris Buckley, who was hired from Reuters in the fall
of 2012, had to leave Beijing a year ago when his visa from his
previous employer expired and the government declined to provide a new
one for the Times. He has been forced to live in Hong Kong, apart from
his wife and daughter, who reside in Beijing.
In addition, China has blocked access to the websites of the Times,
including a new Chinese-language site, since the October 2012
publication of a report on the hidden wealth of family members of the
prime minister at the time. This severely hampers our ability to
provide quality journalism to readers in Chinese. This fall, we started
an online Chinese-language version of T Magazine, the Times' culture
and lifestyle publication, only to have that blocked in November after
publication of other stories the authorities deemed unacceptable.
In conversations in the last year with the Times, Chinese officials
have pointedly objected to articles that explore the intersection
between elite politics and the economy. In other words, they are asking
that the Times and other news organizations refrain from the kind of
reporting that we do in every part of the world, including the United
States. As China's economy becomes more deeply intertwined with that of
the United States and other nations, covering the full range of issues
in the country becomes increasingly important.
Senior executives at the Times have tried to explain our mission
and our viewpoint to Chinese officials. The Times increased those
efforts last year when our websites were blocked and our visa
applications for new journalists frozen. Despite our attempts at
dialogue and at resolving misunderstandings, Chinese officials continue
to treat coverage in the Times as hostile. So we find ourselves at an
unusually uncertain moment, one that involves our core principles of
open journalistic inquiry and also our ability to reach the large and
news-hungry online audience in China.
The Times remains committed to coverage of China. We have invested
great resources in this, and we have demonstrated a willingness to
report on all aspects of China--its politics, economy, foreign policy,
environment, culture, sports, even fashion. We will continue to report
on China even if our journalists are expelled from the country, though
the range and depth of our coverage will suffer--as would our readers'
understanding of China. We also worry that expulsions would have a
profound chilling effect across news media organizations.
As always, we are willing to work with all parties to ensure that
we can remain engaged with China while performing our journalistic
mission. That has been the goal of the Times in China since the
country's leaders embraced a policy of reform and opening up decades
Jill Abramson, Executive Editor
The New York Times
Prepared Statement of Robert Dietz
DECEMBER 11, 2013
With the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping's government in
November 2012, foreign journalists based in China say there has been an
unmistakable hardening of attempts to control their activities through
the denial of visas or delays in their approval. In its year-end
statement, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said about
the problems with visas, ``The authorities have given no public
explanation for their actions, leading to the impression that they have
been taken in reprisal for reporting that displeased the government.
Chinese officials have said that foreign media in China must abide by
Chinese laws and regulations, but they have never explained which laws
and regulations'' are at issue to reporters who have been denied visas.
The FCCC mentioned The New York Times bureau chief, Philip Pan, who has
been waiting for over 18 months, and the Times' correspondent Chris
Buckley, who has been in Hong Kong awaiting a visa for a year. Also
mentioned by the FCCC are Paul Mooney, who is here with us today
because he was denied a visa to work as a features writer for Reuters
after 18 years of reporting from China, and Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera's
English-language service correspondent, who was denied a visa in May
2012 and effectively expelled. (Annex 1, below, contains the FCCC's
entire statement, with a list of five detailed complaints, including
confrontations with police, restricted travel to areas of unrest,
harassment of locally hired staff in China, and diplomatic pressure in
journalists' home countries about their reporting.)
Unease around visa renewals has long been a problem in China. In
the past, journalists applied for their visas in November and December
and generally got them in December. A journalist's visa expires a year
after the day it is issued. If, say, they are issued a visa on December
15, their visa will expire the following year on December 14. Larger
organizations with many employees submit visas on different dates, each
with a different expiration date. Under new rules announced in June and
July, all visas, not just those for journalists, must go through a
screening by the Public Security Bureau that could take up to 15
business days--though at the time of the announcement authorities said
they would try to expedite as many cases as possible. There also seems
to be a problem with the software developed to handle the workload. On
Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing
that China's treatment of foreign journalists consistently follows laws
Journalists in China agree that the two media organizations
attracting the most attention about visa renewals, The New York Times
and Bloomberg News, do seem to be under direct threat of retaliation,
apparently because of their critical reporting on sensitive issues in
China. Together, about 23 or 24 staff are affected. Neither the Times
nor Bloomberg responded to CPJ's requests for more information. (Both
Bloomberg and The New York Times have longstanding close ties to CPJ).
It is also worth noting that none of the journalists with whom CPJ
spoke in recent days were willing to be fully identified. Some
requested that they only be contacted by phone so there would be no
email trail to link them to this presentation.
As one journalist who worries their visa will not be renewed told
me, ``The big question right now is--are the Chinese authorities
bluffing?'' From what that journalist can determine, ``there is no real
way to tell beyond waiting it out.'' This sort of situation creates
real logistical issues for many reporters. If the government decides on
the day before the visa's expiration date that a journalist can stay,
the journalist may have already shipped home their personal effects and
reporting equipment. For others with families, it is even more
devastating. The source asked to have his identity protected because
his is not authorized by the media company he works for to speak
publicly about the issue.
As it stands right now, the reporter told me, one correspondent was
specifically told by a Public Security Bureau official that no visas
would be renewed for their organization. It was, notably, a verbal
conversation, so in the event that authorities reverse their decision
there will be no proof of intended interference. Beyond that one verbal
communication, there does not seem to be anything else from government
officials to explain what is happening or why.
It has worked this way in the past, too. Officials do not offer any
information or the notion of a directive from above. Journalists simply
wait in ``visa purgatory'' with endless phone calls and no information.
And local police have threatened journalists with visa revocation
before--see CPJ's March 2011 report, ``China threatens foreign
journalists for `illegal' reporting.'' Conditions are not improving,
and not just on the issue of visas. The FCCC's Annual Working
Conditions Survey, published in May 2013, found that 98 percent of
respondents do not think reporting conditions in China meet
international standards, and 70 percent feel conditions have worsened
or stayed the same as the year before. Only three respondents said they
think things are getting better. (The FCCC's full survey is attached in
Annex 2, below.)
Have the deteriorating conditions and the tactic of possible visa
restrictions made news organizations step back from reporting on
stories that might anger China's government? Few reporters with whom I
spoke in China would admit to not reporting fully on a situation either
for fear of retaliation by the government or because the government
specifically told them not to report. Bloomberg has strongly denied
claims made by one of its employees that it killed a story for fear of
angering Chinese authorities, as reported in The New York Times.
One reporter, who works for a large news organization, did say that
the atmosphere amid the recent visa issues is daunting: ``This action
is definitely sending waves of fear into many smaller papers around the
globe who have smaller staffs and budgets. In many ways, I think they
have already actually been successful in creating fear-driven self-
censorship and symbolically showing the Western press that it doesn't
matter who you are, we can kick you out,'' the reporter wrote to me.
A question remains: If the government does refuse to allow current
visa holders to stay, does that mean the number of positions for a
large news organization will be reduced, or will other correspondents
be allowed to take their place? Reporters in Beijing told me it would
be fair to assume that if they were forced to leave it would take a
long time to fill their slot and at best there would be a long
``bumpy'' transition period.
CPJ is glad that Vice President Joseph Biden raised the issue of
visas and their link to the freedom to report in China while he was
there this month. Diplomatic engagement like that is among the best
ways to address such problems. But we are concerned by new calls that,
if foreign journalists in China are not granted visa renewals, there
should be retaliation from the United States (see The Washington Post's
December 8 editorial, ``China's strong-arm tactics toward U.S. media
merit a response.'') It is worthwhile to note that the Foreign
Correspondents' Club of China opposes such tactics as ``not
appropriate.'' And CPJ opposed similar calls when they arose in 2012.
Then, H.R. 2899, the Chinese Media Reciprocity Act of 2011, was under
discussion by the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.
The bill sought to reduce the number of visas available to journalists
(and their families) working in the United States for 13 Chinese state-
controlled publications. The aim was to pressure Beijing into allowing
more Voice of America reporters into China, where Voice of America was
allowed only two China visas to cover a country of more than 1.3
China says it accredits 650 foreign journalists in total to work
within its borders--not just those from the United States. That number
seems realistic, though there is no way to check it. And there are a
growing number of Chinese journalists working around the world, not
just in the United States, as China seeks to extend its ``soft''
diplomatic power. It would be disastrous if democratic countries were
to launch a round of modern-era Cold War tit-for-tat accreditation wars
aimed at restricting foreign journalists. I checked recently with a
Chinese journalist based in the United States, and that person said
there are no visa problems for Chinese journalists working as far as
that person is aware. Visa applications are handled from Beijing, the
reporter told me, and other than a face-to-face interview with an
immigration official, journalists are not involved in the process, and
there are no hassles. In the United States and other open democracies,
it should stay that way.
* * *
Foreign Correspondents Club of China Year-end Statement
(Released December 11, 2013)
Reviewing the conditions under which foreign reporters work in
China, the FCCC is disturbed to note a number of negative trends over
the past year.
- In particular, we have found that the Chinese authorities are
increasingly using the denial of visas, or delays in their approval, in
an apparent effort to influence journalists` coverage. No
correspondents for the New York Times and Bloomberg have yet been able
to renew their annual residence visas, which have been subject to
unusual and unexplained delays this year.
The New York Times, since it published articles concerning the
finances of a senior Chinese leader last year, has also been unable to
secure resident journalist visas for either its bureau chief, Philip
Pan, who has been waiting for over 18 months, or correspondent Chris
Buckley, who has been in Hong Kong awaiting a visa for a year.
Paul Mooney, a veteran correspondent known for his reporting on
human rights issues, was denied the visa that would have allowed him to
take a job in Beijing for Reuters. Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera's English
language service correspondent, was denied a visa in May 2012 and
The authorities have given no public explanation for their actions,
leading to the impression that they have been taken in reprisal for
reporting that displeased the government. Chinese officials have said
that foreign media in China must abide by Chinese laws and regulations,
but they have never explained which laws and regulations Pan, Buckley,
Mooney and Chan, or their employers, are said to have violated.
- New rules, introduced this year, according to which the police
take 15 business days (three weeks) to process visa applications, mean
that reporters cannot leave the country during this period, making the
work of those responsible for Asian regional coverage unnecessarily
- The key rule governing foreign journalists in China--that they
need only obtain the consent of their interviewees for an interview to
be legal--has been progressively weakened in practice.
The authorities have, for example, spontaneously designated
locations, such as Tiananmen Square or the scenes of social unrest,
where they claim the rule does not apply and where special permission
is said to be required to film or report. FCCC members also report
being told by local officials in different parts of China that
citizens' employers must approve interview requests.
We are aware of a number of cases in which Chinese citizens have
been intimidated by police or local officials, or instructed not to
grant interviews to foreign correspondents. The Foreign Ministry has
publicly assured reporters that this is a violation of rules governing
their work, but we have seen no evidence that the central government
has taken any steps to enforce those rules.
Large swathes of Chinese territory remain effectively out of bounds
to foreign correspondents. Although a handful of resident foreign
correspondents and some journalists visiting from abroad have been
allowed into Tibet this year, strict restrictions have been imposed on
press coverage there.
Even in areas that are not explicitly off limits, such as Tibetan-
inhabited areas of Gansu, western Sichuan, and Qinghai, FCCC members
have faced obstruction by local authorities that makes working there
extremely difficult, especially since it dissuades local residents from
talking to reporters. Journalists seeking to report on unrest in
Xinjiang have routinely been turned back by checkpoint police telling
them that they are forbidden to be there.
- The police and other security services continue to apply pressure
to foreign correspondents' news assistants. This takes the form of
requests for information about correspondents' activities, threats and
- On at least two occasions this year Chinese embassy staff in
foreign capitals have approached the headquarters of foreign media and
complained about their China-based correspondents' coverage, demanding
that their reports be removed from their websites and suggesting that
they produce more positive China coverage.
The Chinese authorities have repeatedly said that they are keen to
improve foreign reporters` working conditions. We eagerly await the
fruits of their efforts.
FCCC Administration Office
E-mail: [email protected]
General Manager: [email protected]
* * *
Foreign Correspondents' Club of China
Annual Working Conditions Survey (Released July 10, 2013)
The past year has seen unprecedented examples of investigative
journalism by western reporters in China. Unfortunately, the Chinese
government has increasingly resorted to threats and intimidation
against foreign media, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of
China's annual ``Reporting Conditions'' survey* of its members, and its
review of incidents reported over the last 12 months.
The FCCC survey, carried out in May 2013, found that 98 percent of
respondents do not think reporting conditions in China meet
international standards, and 70 percent feel conditions have worsened
or stayed the same as the year before. Only three respondents say they
think things are getting better; the rest have not been here long
enough to have an opinion.
Among the FCCC's greatest concerns are
- government retaliation against foreign media which have incurred
- threats to the physical safety of reporters whose reports have
offended the authorities
- increased cyber harassment and hacking attacks on foreign
- continuing restrictions on journalists' movements in Tibetan-
inhabited areas of China
- official harassment of sources
- official intimidation of reporters' Chinese assistants
The survey found 63 cases in which police officers or unknown
persons impeded foreign reporters from doing their work, including nine
cases in which reporters were manhandled or subjected to physical
force. This represents a welcome drop from last year, but remains
``Attacks on journalists, those working with them and their sources
have replaced detention by uniformed police.'' A US radio
``It has now become normal that uniformed police stand with arms
folded as plainclothes `thugs' appear. The thugs are often violent. I
have received many bruises during these incidents.'' A British TV
OFFICIAL RETALIATION AND INTIMIDATION
Victims of government retaliation include The New York Times and
Bloomberg. The New York Times English and Chinese language websites are
blocked in China and the newspaper has been unable to secure journalist
visas for either Bureau Chief Philip Pan or correspondent Chris
Buckley. Bloomberg has also been unable to secure journalist visas in
order to replace its correspondents and the company has reportedly
suffered significant commercial harm from a drop in sales of its data
Three other media companies, France 24, ARD TV (Germany) and the
Financial Times have also come under unusual Chinese government
pressure after publishing news reports that angered the Chinese
authorities. Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin and London
lodged direct complaints with senior editors, in an apparent effort to
pressure them into restraining their reporters in Beijing.
Although routine delays in the provision of journalist visas appear
to have shortened in recent months, ten percent of survey respondents
reported difficulties in obtaining official press accreditation or a
journalist visa on account of their reporting or that of their
``My paper has been working on my accreditation since August last
year. The authorities stated that the difficulties were due to the work
of my predecessor.'' A European newspaper reporter.
Intimidation can also be more particular and more threatening. One
foreign reporter whose articles angered elements of the Chinese
government was told by the manager of the building where he lives that
security officials had visited and asked the manager questions about
the reporter's family life, the layout of his apartment, where his
children went to school and other personal questions.
Cyber attacks on FCCC members have become routine. Though we cannot
identify the origin of these efforts to install malware and spyware on
our computers, the club's cyber-security consultant has found that many
of the attacks are targeted deliberately at foreign correspondents
based in China.
GEOGRAPHICAL REPORTING RESTRICTIONS
Restrictions on foreign journalists' access to ``sensitive'' areas
of the country remain widespread, arbitrary and unexplained. Reporters
have been told by officials in Qinghai that all Tibetan-inhabited areas
of China are off-limits to the foreign press. Though such a blanket ban
is not always applied, local officials have repeatedly interfered with
``I was road-blocked, denied access and constantly followed and
monitored in Qinghai from the day of my arrival.'' A French newspaper
HARASSMENT OF SOURCES
Previous FCCC reports on working conditions in China have
complained about the official harassment of Chinese citizens who talk
to reporters, which they are free to do if they so choose according to
the Chinese government regulations governing foreign journalists'
activities. Such harassment continues at the same level as ever: the
survey found 23 such cases in 2012-2013.
``After reporting on self-immolations in Qinghai I learned that my
local fixer had been harassed by the police. They showed him all the
Skype and phone contacts he had had with foreign journalists. He seemed
scared.'' A European newspaper reporter.
HARASSMENT OF EMPLOYEES
30 percent of respondents to the FCCC survey said that their
Chinese assistants had been called in by the police or other security
forces to ``drink tea'', a euphemism for an interrogation. The
employees are commonly asked to inform the police about reporters'
activities and plans. Two such assistants have reported that their
relatives have also come under official pressure on account of their
The following cases of sometimes violent interference, reported to
the FCCC over the past year, illustrate the difficulties that foreign
correspondents in China face.
German TV crew attacked
A TV crew belonging to ARD television, narrowly avoided serious
injury when two men, apparently linked to local authorities in Hebei
province, attacked their vehicle with baseball bats, shattering the
windscreen, after a high speed chase down a major highway near the city
of Sanhe, 50 km east of Beijing.
ARD correspondent Christine Adelhardt, accompanied by two German
colleagues and two Chinese staff, had been filming in the village of Da
Yan Ge Zhuang for a report on urbanisation, one of the incoming Chinese
government's major challenges and a process that has often provoked
disputes over land ownership.
``We were filming the village square, where you could see old style
farmers' houses next to a newly-built mansion behind a wall and high-
rise buildings in the background,'' said Adelhardt, when a car drew up
next to them. The car's driver began filming the TV crew.
When the crew left, two cars, later joined by at least two others,
gave chase, trying to force the Germans' minivan off the road and to
deliberately cause a collision. They forced the ARD driver to stop at
one point, whereupon five or six men surrounded the car, attempted to
get in, and hammered on the windows with their fists.
The crew got away, but were pursued, forced off the road and onto
the sidewalk, rammed, and made to stop. Two men from the pursuing
vehicles attacked the minivan with baseball bats, shattering its
windscreen, before the ARD driver was able to get away again by
bulldozing his way past a car parked in front of the ARD van.
The crew then came across two motorcycle policemen and asked them
for help. Their pursuers caught up with them, and again began smashing
and punching holes in the car's windscreen, despite the police
officers' attempts to control them.
A local resident who witnessed the scene later told Adelhardt that
one of the cars involved in the pursuit belonged to the Da Yan Ge
Zhuang village Communist party secretary.
Eventually, police reinforcements arrived, and escorted the ARD
crew to a local police station, where Adelhardt and her colleagues were
questioned. Adelhardt saw a number of the men who had attacked her car
at the police station, but was not sure whether they were detained.
When she asked to file a charge of attempted homicide, she was assured
by a local official that such charges had already been laid against the
But a policeman told her that the investigation had found that
villagers had been ``offended'' by the TV crew's presence and that they
should have asked permission to film.
Chinese government regulations governing foreign journalists in
China state expressly that such prior permission is not required to
film in public spaces.
Japanese reporter beaten
Atsushi Okudera, a correspondent for Asahi Shinbun in Shanghai, was
injured after police officers pushed him to the ground and kicked him
in the head and about the body while he was covering the mass
demonstration on July 28 in Nantong's Qidong district. His camera was
German correspondent's equipment ruined
Der Spiegel correspondent Bernhard Zand and his Chinese assistant
were reporting on the case of five boys who died of carbon monoxide
poisoning in Bijie, Guizhou. In the course of their work they met the
journalist who had first broken this story and who had then disappeared
for several weeks, Li Yuanlong.
They were followed throughout their stay in Bijie by unidentified
men. On the evening of Dec. 29th they checked into the Kempinski Hotel
in Guiyang. When they returned from supper to their rooms they found
that Bernhard's tablet computer and an iPhone had been destroyed by
submersion in water (they were still wet), all the photos on an SD
memory card in his computer had been deleted, and a large number of
files had been deleted from his laptop. Most of the files on his
assistant's laptop, in the next-door room, had also been deleted.
Bernhard filed a complaint the next morning with the local police,
but their investigations did not uncover the culprits. The Kempinski
Hotel's security chief said the CCTV cameras with a clear view of the
doors to the two rooms in question had not recorded any pictures at the
relevant time, and hotel staff said that the hotel does not keep logs
of guestrooms' electronic door locks.
Hong Kong journalists beaten in Beijing
On March 8, two Hong Kong journalists were beaten outside the home
of Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. A group of
unidentified men beat TVB cameraman Tam Wing-man and Now TV cameraman
Wong Kim-fai, as they were filming an activist's attempt to visit Liu
Xia, who is under house arrest at her apartment building.
The attackers, who did not identify themselves, suddenly appeared
from around a corner, shouted at the group of journalists outside the
building, and demanded that they stop filming. One of the Hong Kong
cameramen was punched in the face and pushed to the ground, while the
attackers attempted to confiscate the other's camera and hit him in the
* About the survey: The FCCC conducts an annual survey on reporting
conditions. The survey was sent to 232 FCCC correspondent members in
Spring 2013, of whom 98 replied. Figures indicate an absolute number of
responses, unless otherwise indicated. When percentages are used, they
reflect all respondents to that specific question. Not all respondents
answered every question. Data may be used if credit is given to the
Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC).
Prepared Statement of Sarah Cook
DECEMBER 11, 2013
Thank you Mr. Chairman and other members of the commission for
convening this very timely and important roundtable discussion.
In my remarks this afternoon, I will focus on three aspects of the
Chinese government's relationship with international media that reach
beyond the obstructions targeting individual journalists based inside
The use of collective punishment tactics to impede the
work of news organizations and discourage the dissemination of
certain critical reporting.
The aspects of these dynamics that take place outside
The long-term impact of these pressures on news
coverage, human rights, and media sustainability.
My remarks are primarily drawn from a report I authored that was
published in October by the National Endowment for Democracy's Center
for International Media Assistance titled The Long Shadow of Chinese
Censorship. The full report is available online but I would like to
submit the chapter on international media and another segment for the
record alongside my testimony.
The impact of the obstacles other panelists have noted reaches
beyond an individual journalist's career or physical safety, affecting
the broader ability of news organizations to report from China. When
American television correspondent Melissa Chan's visa renewal was
refused, al-Jazeera English had to shutter its presence in China
because no visa was granted for a replacement.\1\ Bureau chiefs from
U.S. outlets like the New York Times or the Washington Post have also
been unsuccessful in securing visas, though their colleagues still
report from inside the country.\2\ Several correspondents have told the
Foreign Correspondent's Club of China that officials implied their visa
delay was due to their predecessor's reporting.\3\
These examples reflect a broader phenomenon whereby the targets of
Chinese sanctions expand beyond specifically offending content or an
individual journalist to collective retaliation against an entire
outlet, sometimes with notable financial implications. The Chinese
government's multi-faceted reaction to investigative reports by
Bloomberg and the New York Times in 2012 about large financial holdings
by the kin of then Vice President Xi Jinping and Premier Wen Jiabao
exemplify these dynamics.\4\
In both instances, the Chinese authorities chose to block the
outlet's entire website indefinitely, an unusual move against major
news organizations.\5\ This was despite the capacity of the country's
refined Internet filters to block individual pages within a website--a
tactic employed regularly to restrict access to articles deemed
sensitive within otherwise tolerated sources. At present, both sites
remained inaccessible from China. As the previous panelists have noted,
both organizations have also faced significant challenges renewing or
gaining new visas for their correspondents, including those uninvolved
in the offending investigations.
Reflecting their varied business operations in China, the official
retaliation against the two outlets manifested differently. For the
Times, the blocking of not only its English but also of its newly
launched Chinese-language website produced palpable financial losses.
Overnight, the company's stock lost 20 percent of its value, though it
slowly recovered over the following months.\6\ The outlet was also
forced to renegotiate agreements with numerous advertisers, causing
Bloomberg's English-only website does not have a broad audience
within China. The blocking thus seems motivated less by a wish to
damage Bloomberg's access to Chinese readers, than by a desire to
signal that finance-oriented news sources are not exempt from wholesale
blocking if they embark on sensitive political investigations.\8\ More
central to Bloomberg's operations in China are its financial data
terminals, used by large banks and firms.\9\ The public gesture of
blocking its website was combined with other threatening measures
including having security agents tail some Bloomberg employees and
Chinese bankers cancelling previously arranged meetings with the
Such actions appear to have deterred at least some would-be
business partners and clients.\11\ According to the Foreign
Correspondents Club of China, Bloomberg ``reportedly suffered
significant commercial harm from a drop in sales of its data
GEOGRAPHIC REACH NOT LIMITED TO CHINA
The geographic reach of obstructions to international news
reporting is increasingly not limited to China. This trend manifests in
In early 2013, several news organizations--including the New York
Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post--publicized
that they had been the victims of complex cyberattacks by Chinese
hackers. The attacks not only targeted individual China-based
journalists, but also infiltrated the companies' servers outside China.
The attackers apparently wished to obtain pre-publication warning on
reports critical of the Chinese government and to identify sources of
information provided to foreign correspondents. Though the attacks
could not be conclusively traced to Chinese government entities,
several features lend credibility to that assertion.\13\
In other instances, the connection to Chinese government actors has
been more explicit as officials take direct action by pressuring
international media executives and senior editors to take down or
refrain from publishing a critical report.
Both the New York Times and Bloomberg were strongly urged to drop
the articles about top leaders' family assets when Chinese officials
became aware of the upcoming exclusives. After Bloomberg offered the
Chinese government an opportunity to comment two weeks before
publication, the Chinese ambassador to the United States met personally
with the company's editor-in-chief in Washington alongside other
These pressures are not limited to the United States. In June 2013,
the television station France 24 reported that Chinese embassy
officials visited its Paris headquarters and met with the chief
executive after it aired a brief documentary titled ``Seven Days in
Tibet.'' According to Reporters Without Borders, the diplomats
denounced the piece and demanded its removal from the station's
website, a request the outlet refused.\15\ Without providing the full
details, the FCCC noted similar incidents occurring in London and
Berlin over reporting by the Financial Times and ARD TV,
Chinese security agents and local police have repeatedly harassed
foreign journalists in Nepal who were reporting on the treatment of
Tibetan refugees. In February 2012, a CNN crew reported that men
appearing to be plainclothes Chinese security personnel crossed the
border into Nepal and followed them deep into a Nepalese village as
they tried to interview residents for a story on Tibetan refugees.\17\
Hard-hitting reporting from China continues to reach newsstands and
television screens around the world. Nonetheless, the Chinese
government's efforts to thwart independent investigations have taken a
toll on international media coverage of the country.
When sources are intimidated into silence, journalists are forced
to abandon potentially newsworthy stories--including on health issues
like AIDS and deadly asbestos--or invest an inordinate amount of time
and money to complete them.\18\
Lack of unimpeded access to regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet has
hindered independent investigations of severe crackdowns, enforced
disappearances, and torture. Blocked access has sometimes forced
overreliance on Chinese state media reports, whose unverified details--
on the death toll during ethnic unrest, for example--eventually seep
into Western news items as statements of fact. The blocking of foreign
correspondents from Tiananmen Square in late October following an
attack by a speeding SUV helped reinforce the Chinese government's
questionable narrative that this was a premeditated assault by Uighur
Psychological elements add another dimension, as fears over
physical safety, access to the country or family privacy can make
reporters think twice about what they write. According to freelance
journalist Paul Mooney, who at the time of our interview was awaiting a
visa (which has since been denied), a cautious mood has settled over
the foreign press corps over the past year:
I'm sure that a lot of journalists would deny being intimidated
by such tactics . . . but I'm positive that some people buckle
and keep away from certain `''sensitive'' topics because
they're afraid of not getting a visa . . . Recently, some
colleagues have encouraged me to stop Tweeting and making
comments about China on other social media and academic list
serves, which we assume are being monitored. It's in the back
of my mind all the time, but I've not curtailed what I do.\20\
Meanwhile, collective punishment tactics generate conflicting
stances among departments within a news organization, as sales are
potentially damaged or boosted by editorial decisions.
International media have oftentimes defiantly resisted direct and
indirect pressures to alter their content, despite potential financial
But not always. Even well respected outlets have faced allegations
of self-censorship, sometimes with a lag time from when Chinese
pressure was initially applied. The recent reports of apparent
decisions by Bloomberg executives to curb the publication of stories
investigating the links between Chinese tycoons and the political elite
are one such example.\21\ In 2012, the Washington Post's then
ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, questioned the paper's handling of an
interview with Xi Jinping that was printed verbatim based on Chinese-
dictated questions and replies. He noted the Post's difficulty securing
visas and the receipt of significant income from a Chinese-state run
advertorial insert as pressure points.\22\
More broadly, a 2009 academic study found that reports about the
Falun Gong spiritual practice in major Western news outlets and wire
services were few and far between, despite the ongoing scale and
severity of abuses suffered by its adherents.\23\ The author cited
self-censorship and CCP obstructions as two factors contributing to the
phenomenon. Despite periodic stories, this trend has largely continued.
Over the past year, dozens (and more likely hundreds) of Falun Gong
adherents have been detained and sentenced to prison, in some cases for
up to 12 years.\24\ Yet there has been almost no coverage in major news
outlets of the crackdown, despite its implications for how one might
interpret other headline-grabbing developments like reform of the labor
The existence of self-censorship is difficult to conclusively
document, but such incidents are nonetheless a reminder of the CCP's
capacity to influence Western media reporting on China. As Pexton
notes, ``There is interdependence in the relationship, and constant
negotiation and compromise. The Chinese know it, and they take
advantage of it.'' \25\
Much is at stake as this transnational contestation unfolds.
Independent media outlets facing Chinese reprisals experience rising
costs and loss of advertising revenue in an already competitive and
financially challenging industry. Individual reporters encounter
restrictive editorial policies, threats to their livelihood, and even
physical injury. News consumers outside China are deprived of
information for assessing the political stability of a major trading
partner, responding to health and environmental crises, or taking
action to support Chinese people's quest for a more free and just
For Chinese people, the stakes are even higher. In the age of
microblogs, circumvention tools, international travel, and satellite
television, overseas media outlets offer a vital source of information
on matters with life-or-death consequences, be they torture,
environmental pollution, or threats to public health. Their ability to
function and report uncensored news promotes transparency and
accountability in an opaque and arbitrary political system.
Absent a concerted international response to Chinese government
obstructions, the situation is likely to further deteriorate as China's
international role expands alongside a deep sense of Communist Party
insecurity at home. Meanwhile, some measures initially aimed at
restricting coverage of China could potentially be employed to affect
reporting on important events in other societies. At one point, the
heightened activity of Chinese hackers who had infiltrated the New York
Times global server on the night of the 2012 U.S. presidential election
reportedly prompted fears among senior editors that the site could be
compromised at a critical time. Ultimately, the hackers were focused on
the narrow objective of tracking information related to an expose about
the financial holdings of Premier Wen Jiabao's family, but the incident
highlighted the potential for cyberattacks by the Chinese government or
its sympathizers to impact coverage of political consequence in the
In terms of actions that the U.S. government might take in
response, Vice President Biden's raising of this issue both privately
and publicly during his recent visit to China is a welcome start.
However, such statements must be backed up with real action and
sanctions if the Chinese government does not heed such warnings.
Otherwise, the United States risks sending the message that its concern
over this issue is not genuine and that it is unwilling to put real
political and diplomatic weight behind protecting the freedoms of its
journalists--an outcome likely to only embolden Chinese government
hostility towards foreign media.
As the United States government explores possible responses,
Freedom House would strongly recommend taking a multi-lateral approach
and consulting with like-minded government to formulate a united
stance. Although most of the examples cited today have involved U.S.-
based media, this is hardly a problem limited to American news
organizations. There are hundreds of foreign correspondents based in
China from dozens of countries and many of them face similar
restrictions. A collective response from the United States, European
governments, as well as perhaps Japan and Australia would carry greater
weight than a U.S.-only reaction. It would also leave the United States
and American journalists less vulnerable to future retaliation.
Thank you again for holding this roundtable and for giving me an
opportunity to contribute the above observations to the discussion.
\1\ ``Al Jazeera English Forced Out of China,'' Al Jazeera, May 9,
\2\ Foreign Correspondents' Club of China Annual Working Conditions
2013; Will Sommer, ``Post's Chinese Visa Fight Ends With a Whimper,''
City Desk (blog), Washington City Paper, September 17, 2012, http://
\3\ Foreign Correspondents' Club of China Annual Working Conditions
\4\ Michael Martina, ``Bloomberg Sites Blocked in China Days After
Xi Family Wealth Story,'' Reuters, July 4, 2012, http://
idUSBRE86306820120704; Keith Bradsher, ``China Blocks Web Access to
Times After Article,'' New York Times, October 25, 2012, http://
\5\ Simon Rabinovitch, ``China Keeps Up Block on Bloomberg
Website,'' Financial Times (London), July 28, 2012, http://www.ft.com/
\6\ ``The New York Times Company,'' Yahoo! Finance, http://
\7\ Margaret Sullivan, ``'Great Journalism' That Has Unwanted
Business Impact in China,'' New York Times, October 26, 2012, http://
\8\ Traditionally, though not always, the Chinese authorities have
been more tolerant of critical reporting related to financial and
economic matters, compared to political or human rights ones.
\9\ Nonetheless, China remains a relatively small market for the
terminals, with about 3,000 operating compared to 10,000 in Hong Kong
and 100,000 in the United States, according to Howard Winn of the South
China Morning Post. Howard Winn, ``Sino-Bloomberg Relations Remain
Unsettled After Xi Story,'' South China Morning Post (Hong Kong),
September 14, 2012, http://www.scmp.com/business/article/1036193/sino-
\10\ Rabinovitch, ``China Keeps Block on Bloomberg.''
\11\ Ibid; Winn, ``Sino-Bloomberg Relations.''
\12\ Foreign Correspondents' Club of China Annual Working
\13\ Nicole Perlroth, ``Hackers in China Attacked the Times for
Last 4 Months,'' New York Times, January 30, 2013, http://
york-times-computers.html?pagewanted=all ; Jonathan Kaiman, ``New York
Times Claims Chinese Hackers Hijacked Its Systems,'' Guardian (London),
January 31, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/jan/31/new-
\14\ Winn, ``Sino-Bloomberg Relations.''
\15\ The journalist who filmed the segment undercover during a
seven-day visit to Tibet also received harassing and threatening
messages from Chinese diplomats in Thailand while visiting Bangkok.
``Chinese Diplomats Threaten French Journalist After Tibet Report,''
Reporters Without Borders, June 11, 2013, http://en.rsf.org/chine-
\16\ Foreign Correspondents' Club of China Annual Working
\17\ Sara Sidner, ``Is China Pushing Nepal to Crack Down on
Tibetans,'' CNN, February 22, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/21/
\18\ Paul Mooney, email communication to author, July 10, 2013.
\19\ Sarah Cook, ``Be Skeptical of the Official Story on the
Tiananmen Car Crash,'' Freedom at Issue (Freedom House blog), November
4, 2013, http://www.freedomhouse.org/blog/be-skeptical-official-story-
\20\ Mooney email interview.
\21\ Edward Wong, ``Bloomberg News is Said to Curb Articles that
Might Anger China,'' The New York Times, November 8, 2013, http://
\22\ Patrick B. Pexton, ``Caving to China's Demands,'' Washington
Post, February 24, 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-02-24/
\23\ Leeshai Lemish, ``Media and New Religious Movements: The Case
of Falun Gong'' (paper, 2009 CESNUR Conference, Salt Lake City, UT,
June 11-13, 2009), http://www.cesnur.org/2009/slc--lemish.htm.
\24\ Interviews with Chinese activists who wished to remain
anonymous, November 2013; Falun Dafa Information Center, ``Reports
Confirm Ongoing Persecution in China Despite Labor Camp Closures,''
October 10, 2013, http://www.faluninfo.net/article/1305/Reports-
\25\ Pexton, ``Caving to China's Demands.''
\26\ Perlroth, ``Hackers in China'' (see n. 13).
Opening Statement of Hon. Sherrod Brown, a U.S. Senator From Ohio;
Chairman, Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC)
DECEMBER 11, 2013
Today I am calling on China to immediately cease its policy of
harassing foreign journalists, denying and delaying their visas, and
blocking the websites of foreign media in China. If the situation does
not improve, we must consider other steps that Congress may take to
address the issue.
Our approach is critical. China is the world's most populous
country and our second-largest trading partner. It faces daunting
challenges, from crippling pollution and widespread corruption, to
suppression of the basic freedoms we take for granted. And as we have
seen recently, China is increasing its military posture in the region.
What happens in China affects us all.
It is therefore imperative that we have a complete and accurate
picture of what is going on there.
But we can't do that without foreign journalists.
If foreign journalists cannot report the news in China, who will
investigate the financial dealings of China's top leaders and their
Who will report on Tibet and Xinjiang and the plight of human
Who will investigate labor conditions at factories that make
products sold in America?
It has to be the foreign press because China's own journalists are
hamstrung by severe censorship.
That's why China's recent actions to shut down foreign journalists
are so troubling.
What's happening now has few precedents.
If 23 reporters don't get their visas by the end of the year, The
New York Times and Bloomberg may not be able to cover China at all.
China has now made this a fair trade issue by blocking access to
the web sites of The New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, and the Wall
And in November, Chinese officials denied a visa to American
journalist Paul Mooney after he had been reporting in China for the
past 18 years.
For years foreign journalists in China have had to endure periodic
beatings, interrogations, and harassment just to do their job.
But what is new is that China is now threatening to use its weapon
of last resort--closing the country off to the rest of the world.
We must do all we can to prevent that from happening.
Submission for the Record
Written Statement of Paul Mooney, Freelance Journalist
DECEMBER 11, 2013
I'm very happy to have the opportunity to speak at this roundtable
and I would like to thank Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative
Christopher Smith for providing this platform to discuss the serious
deterioration of the treatment of foreign journalists in China.
On November 8, the Chinese government informed Reuters that my
application for a journalist visa had been denied, ending an eight
month wait for my visa, and my 18-year career as a foreign
correspondent in China. No reason was given for the refusal, but a 90-
minute visa interview at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco last
April focused on my views on human rights, rule of law, the Dalai Lama,
and Tibet. At the end of the interview, the consular official said to
me: ``If we allow you to return to China, we hope you're reporting will
be more objective.''
Although Beijing made some concessions to the media to win the
right to host the 2008 Olympics, as soon as the Games were over, the
government began to tighten controls again. In 2009, we began to see an
increasing number of foreign journalists who faced extended delays in
getting their visas approved. In these cases, the journalists had in
the previous 12 months reported on sensitive issues, and while reasons
were not usually given by the government, it was clear to the people
involved why they were being targeted. Beijing has long used the threat
of expulsion as a means of influencing international journalists in
In 2012, Melissa Chan, an American journalists working for Al
Jazeera, was refused a visa renewal and was forced to leave the
country. She was the first foreign journalist to be kicked out of China
in 13 years. Such decisions are extremely rare, and it signaled a
worrisome shift in China's handling of the foreign media. In addition,
Phil Pan and Chris Buckley of the New York Times, and a handful of
reporters from Bloomberg, have been waiting for more than a year to get
visas to move to China to do reporting.
The situation has dramatically worsened in recent months, with some
two dozen journalists from the New York Times and Bloomberg today
facing the possibility of not getting their visas renewed, which would
have a serious impact on the ability of these news organizations to
report about China.
China has given no reason for failing to approve these visa
applications, only saying that this was done in accordance with Chinese
laws and regulations. However, Beijing has not provided any examples of
wrongdoing, leading to speculation that this is in retaliation for
reporting that displeased senior Chinese officials.
These drastic actions may have a strong impact on other journalists
in China, who will now worry that their reporting on sensitive issues
will result in expulsion from the country.
I'd like to first state that my reporting, and that of my
colleagues, is not anti-China. Many of us have spent years learning
about China and studying the language, and we have a deep affection for
China and the Chinese people.
I reported accurately what I saw and heard from Chinese people: the
parents of kidnapped children, AIDS victims, people in cancer villages,
migrant workers, poor farmers, the handicapped and others who have been
left behind by the so-called Chinese economic miracle. The Chinese
government may not like what I reported, but during my close to two
decades in China, it never once challenged the accuracy of my
During my last two years working in Beijing, from 2010 to 2012, I
was not given the normal one-year visa, but instead three- and six-
month visas. Few journalists get such limited visas and the purpose is
to make reporters self-censor in order to be allowed to remain in
Foreign journalists in China often work under psychological
pressure. The government strives to conceal the truth about China, and
this makes the job of journalists very difficult. I got a taste of this
the first week I arrived in China to work in 1994, when police at the
Bureau of Entry and Exit responsible for issuing journalist visas took
me into a back room and sternly warned me not to violate any laws. What
they really meant was I shouldn't write about things the government
didn't want me to cover. Weeks later, the police officer in charge of
monitoring me, stopped me from entering a Protestant church on a Sunday
morning, where Chinese Christians had been outspoken in defense of the
right to freely practice their faith, a right that's guaranteed in the
Foreign journalists in China play a daily game of cat and mouse
with the Chinese police and security agencies. Our movements are
closely monitored, a task made easy by the J (for journalist) visas in
our passports that are like a scarlet letter. They know whenever we
purchase an airline ticket and they're notified as soon as we check
into a hotel anywhere in China. They also use our mobile phones to
monitor our movements and even listen in to our conversations. It's a
common practice among foreign corresponders in China not to take their
mobile phones with them when they do sensitive interviews because it's
believed the police have the ability to use them as a listening device,
even if the mobile phone is turned off and the battery is removed. When
traveling, journalists sometimes turn off their phones or frequently
change their phone cards to limit the ability of the police to monitor
them. In some cases, Chinese news assistants are invited to ``have
tea'' with security agents or police, who pressure them to report on
their bosses, such as which stories they plan to report on, people they
interview and travel plans.
During a brief flirtation with the Jasmine Revolution in Beijing in
2011, foreign journalists in Beijing were jostled by plainclothes
police when they tried to visit the area where Chinese were expected to
carry out silent protests. Stephen Engle, a reporter for Bloomberg
Television, was beaten in public view on the streets of Beijing. The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied this a few days later, despite the
fact that a video proved the beating's occurrence. Colleagues were
warned not to go to the protest site over the following weeks, with the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs openly warning journalists that their visas
might not be renewed if they disobeyed this request. Police called the
homes of journalists to warn them not to cover this event, and in a few
cases, police actually turned up at the homes of foreign journalist to
issue stern warnings.
Traveling can also be dangerous. It's common for local officials or
police to detain foreign journalists while they're working. I almost
always traveled alone to do reporting, and when covering sensitive
stories I often worried about being detained and having my notes and
photographs confiscated. My wife and two daughters also worried about
me as they knew there were risks involved in the reporting I did.
While it's difficult to ascertain the source of some things, our
computers are frequently attacked with malware, and in some cases,
journalists and their families are threatened physically via phone
calls and emails. One colleague told me recently of being called into
police stations on two occasions, where she was shouted at, threatened
and filmed during the process.
More troubling for me, was the intimidation of the people I came
into contact with during my reporting. An important Chinese rule
governing foreign journalists, the result of the Olympics concessions,
says that foreign journalists only need to obtain the permission of
interviewees for an interview to be legal. In reality, this often is
not the case. Journalists are frequently physically prevented from
speaking to Chinese and sources are often threatened or punished for
speaking to us. In one recent incident, Ilham Tohti, a prominent
university economist, was harassed by police, who rammed into his car
while his family was sitting in it. The police allegedly told him it
was because he had spoken to foreign journalists.
I often worried that people would get into trouble for speaking to
me. In several cases, I later received phone calls from people I'd
interviewed, telling me they'd been visited by police, and in at least
two cases, people told me that they were briefly detained by the
police, including a taxi driver who had no idea who I was and who had
not helped me in any way.
Tibet is completely off limits to foreign journalists, who can only
travel there with a special permit that's quite difficult to obtain.
I've applied several times for permission to travel to Tibet, but I've
never gotten permission. Even when reporting on Tibetan areas outside
of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, journalists are often
restricted. For example, I have been prevented by police from entering
Tibetan areas in Gansu province. And although Xinjiang is theoretically
open to the media, in some cases the provincial government requires
that journalists get special permission before reporting there, which
is a violation of China's own regulations governing journalists. This
seriously impedes the ability of the foreign media to report freely in
During a trip to Kashgar, in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province,
police arrived at my hotel within 15 minutes of my arrival, and I was
followed the entire time I was there. During another visit, Xinjiang
police forced me to check out of my hotel shortly after I arrived, and
they forced me move into a hotel designated for foreign journalists.
Over the next three days, I was not allowed to leave the hotel
without a police escort. The officers who stayed with me from morning
to night made sure I didn't speak to any Uyghur people and they didn't
allow me to take any photographs. At the time, tensions were high in
the area; armed police marched through the streets, and truckloads of
soldiers crisscrossed the city. The government obviously didn't want
anyone to report on this. On the fourth day, police officials put me on
a train and sent me out of Kashgar.
When I was reporting last year in an AIDS village, local officials
entered the farm house where I was conducting an interview just minutes
after my arrival. Five of the six people in that family had contracted
AIDS as a result of selling their blood to illegal blood collection
centers set up by local governments. As I didn't want to get the family
into trouble--although they agreed to speak with me, and realized the
risk--I left the village immediately. Shortly after getting into our
car and driving off, the AIDS victim who had been accompanying me,
received a phone call from officials in her village insisting that she
return home immediately. I completely avoided other AIDS villages
because I was told that swarms of police were on the lookout for both
Chinese and foreign journalists attempting to enter these areas. As a
result, AIDS victims who were keen to speak with me, traveled to nearby
towns to meet with me. I also made secret visits to seriously ill AIDS
victims in rural hospitals, but I was kicked out of one hospital after
hospital officials realized I was there. On my final day in one town, I
barely left the hotel after someone tipped me off that police were
coming to my hotel to question me. I wanted to leave before they
arrived so that my notes and photographs would not be destroyed or
confiscated, which would have been a serious setback in my reporting on
Foreign journalists who work in China all have had similar
It's important that the world be well-informed about what's going
on in China, not just in terms of economic and business news, but also
about many other issues that have an impact outside of China's borders,
and which affect people around the world. In recent years, China has
tried to minimize or cover up issues such as AIDS, milk contamination,
tainted animal foods, toxic toothpaste, dangerous pirated products, and
heavy metals pollution of rice, vegetables and fruits. These are issues
that can directly affect the well-being of consumers and citizens
around the world and journalists should have the right to write about
It's important to note that China's attempt to control the message
is not limited to just the foreign media. Its own journalists and
citizens lack freedom of expression, many prominent international
scholars are refused visas to travel to China, and those who are given
access often worry about crossing some invisible line. International
companies, organizations and NGOs are intimidated and thus often
reluctant to speak honestly for fear of being criticized.
As a result, the international media is often the only source of
objective reporting about China, for both the world and China itself.
In many cases, reports by the international media filter back into
China, providing Chinese citizens with news they may not otherwise have
had access to. If fact, Chinese officials themselves would not be aware
of some serious issues if they were not reported by the international
media. If this voice is silenced, the world will be seriously limited
in its ability to understand China.
In the past, governments and organizations have tried to use polite
persuasion to convince China to stop its intimidation of the
international media. Unfortunately, this has not worked. In fact, the
situation has seriously deteriorated in recent years. I don't think
that China will change it's attitude unless some stronger steps are
taken to stop its unfair treatment of the media.
Many people are opposed to a tit-for-tat visa policy against
Chinese journalists, arguing that this would go against the traditional
American respect for freedom of the media. I don't want to see my
Chinese colleagues prevented from reporting in the United States.
However, delaying visas for Chinese journalists or for media and
propaganda officials who are not involved in the daily work of
journalism would send a clear signal to Beijing.
Despite arguments that reciprocal polices can't have any impact on
China, there are precedents for this. I've heard of several cases in
which foreign governments have delayed issuing visas to Chinese
journalists and officials in retaliation for such policies, and in
these cases, China immediately backed down.
I'm concerned that Beijing has been emboldened by the failure of
governments and news organizations to challenge it's unfair treatment
of the media, and that the situation will worsen unless some concrete
actions are taken.
The Chinese government is able to act the way it does because media
organizations and foreign governments have been reluctant to go public
with such abuses, instead relying on polite diplomacy behind closed
doors. Something can be done to improve this situation, but it's going
to take more than just quietly expressing displeasure.
Some two dozen American journalists at the New York Times and
Bloomberg News are now facing imminent expulsion over the coming days
and weeks, a move that would cripple the ability of these two US news
organizations to continue to function in China and provide the world
with accurate news that people need.
It's urgent that the US government immediately adopt measures to
deal with this rapidly worsening situation.