Two dozen journalists working for US media outlets in China are waiting for authorities to renew their residence and work permits. But should Beijing fail to do so, the first of them will have to leave the country soon.
"To have friends come from afar, isn't that delightful?!" The answer to this traditional Chinese idiom from Confucius might now have to be answered with a "no" it seems. China has said it would reject the visa renewal applications of around two dozen American journalists. "No correspondent from The New York Times or Bloomberg has been able to renew their visa so far," the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) criticized the Chinese decision this week.
Foreign journalists in China must seek accreditation from the Chinese foreign ministry, which is in charge of extending journalists' visa by the end of year. Due to changes made to visa regulations this year the processing time for visa renewals has now been extended to 15 days. According to the FCCC, the authorities refused to accept the applications of several US journalists, while others had their passports and applications returned with no visas.
The Chinese foreign ministry reportedly ordered not to accept any further applications. In response to FCCC criticism, spokesman Hong Lei simply stated: "Foreign journalists will be treated according to Chinese law." The decision is likely to affect some 23 China-based correspondents.
"For the first time in the history of China, so many journalists will have to leave the country all at once." A German journalist who has lived and worked in China for many years was very angry about the decision by the Chinese authorities. "We are worried, but we are trying not to let this influence us - otherwise the Chinese government would be getting what it wants," the journalist told DW on condition of anonymity.
If the Chinese foreign ministry continues with this policy, the American outlets The New York Times and Bloomberg won't have any correspondents in China.
Critical journalists unwelcome
A correspondent for the German public broadcaster ARD in Shanghai, Markus Rimmele, confirms the criticism. "Whoever writes critical articles might have to expect a problem the next time he or she applies for a visa extension. Everyone knows that.
Li Li, a Chinese commentator who now lives in the Netherlands, confirms: "Investigative reports about China open door to the country. The quality of foreign reporting on China will surely be negatively influenced if these journalists are no longer allowed to work in there. It is like taking war reporters out of the war zone."
But Li is optimistic. The deported journalists could, like Chris Buckley, stay in contact with sources in China and continue to work from Hong Kong or neighboring countries. Buckley, a New York Times correspondent, had the extension of his visa rejected nearly a year ago and had to move with his family to Hong Kong.
But for Li, as long as there is important news material in China, journalists will use it - and the Chinese sources "will always try to get information to the foreign journalists."
Pressure becomes more public
US Vice President Joe Biden during his trip to Beijing last week spoke about the treatment of correspondents. But his words fell on deaf ears. Censorship and news embargoes are a common tool used by Chinese authorities to prevent a negative portrayal of the country in international media.
"Today, the Communist Party is exerting ever more pressure on foreign media and they are doing it openly," Li explains. Rimmele says this is because China today is more powerful and thus can present itself as more powerful. "Naturally China knows that no media company will really have a good international standing if it has no correspondents in the People's Republic. And it also knows that it can take advantage of this," he said.