Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Beijing-based NY Times reporter forced to leave China in apparent retaliation for 2012 Times and Bloomberg reports exposing vast wealth of Communist Party elites and their relatives-USA Today

1/29/14, "Beijing forces U.S. reporter to leave China," USA Today, Calum MacLeod
"A Beijing-based U.S. reporter must leave China Thursday, as authorities continue to punish foreign news organizations for exposing the tremendous wealth amassed by close relatives of top Communist Party leaders.

Barring a last-minute, and highly unlikely, change of heart by the Chinese government, New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy will fly out of Beijing Thursday, the day his visa expires. Ramzy, 39, will become the second reporter for the newspaper in 13 months forced to leave mainland China.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, insisting that it strictly follows Chinese regulations, said Monday that Ramzy had violated visa rules. Many observers believe his and other visa denials, for journalists from the Times and Bloomberg, reflect official anger at foreign coverage of especially sensitive topics that the party is able to prevent China's domestic media from reporting.

"These technical arguments are disingenuous; the visa rules are unclear and have not been applied to other foreign correspondents," said Peter Ford, President of The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China. "The government is punishing the Times or the content of its coverage by denying three of its correspondents visas. It seems as simple as that," he said.

Official corruption is one of China's hottest topics. The ruling Communist Party says it can handle the problem internally, and refuses to allow public or independent supervision of government and party officials. On Sunday, a Beijing court jailed rights activist Xu Zhiyong for four years for encouraging citizens to lobby for officials to disclose their assets.

The wealth of the party elite is an open secret in China, but Bloomberg and the Times broke new ground in 2012 by documenting the riches accumulated by relatives of then Premier Wen Jiabao, and current President and Party leader Xi Jinping.

Beijing responded by blocking the firms' websites in China and refusing to issue visas to new correspondents. The government has not acted on applications for Bloomberg journalists, not currently working in China, who are meant to replace at least five former employees at its Beijing bureau, reported the Times Tuesday.

In past decades, Chinese authorities expelled individual foreign journalists in reaction to their coverage. A newer tactic appears to punish whole news organizations. Instead of forcing out the actual writers of the articles about elite wealth, Beijing has targeted new correspondents transferring from other bureaus or other organizations.

Chris Buckley, formerly of Reuters in Beijing, had to leave China in late 2012 when authorities did not process his application for a new visa as a Times reporter. He now works from Hong Kong, while his family remains in Beijing. Philip Pan has been waiting almost two years for his visa to work as the Times's Beijing bureau chief.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Monday that Ramzy, hired by the Times last summer after six years working in China for Time magazine, broke visa rules by staying in China on his "old" but valid visa, which was linked to his job at Time. "The NY Times, following rules, handed Foreign Ministry a visa application for Austin Ramzy last June. They have not approved it," Edward Wong, acting Beijing bureau chief for the paper, tweeted Monday.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing criticized the visa denials and delays Wednesday.

"Our two countries should be expanding media exchanges to enhance mutual understanding and trust, not restricting the ability of journalists to conduct their work," said Embassy press spokesman Nolan Barkhouse. "We have raised our concerns about the treatment of journalists and media organizations repeatedly at the highest levels of the Chinese government, and we will continue to do so."

Last month, Vice President Biden raised journalist visa problems with his counterparts during a visit to the Chinese capital. In late December, over two dozen journalists already working for Bloomberg and the Times in China were finally able to process long-delayed visa renewals for themselves and their families.

Chinese authorities have regularly broken promises made before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to improve the reporting environment for foreign journalists. Restrictions remain on traveling to certain areas, and local officials regularly intimidate interviewees. Harassment of foreign journalists, sometimes violent, remains common, as seen outside the courthouse where Xu Zhiyong was tried last Wednesday.

"I am deeply concerned that police mistreated foreign journalists who were covering the Xu Zhiyong trial," said the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke. "I urge Chinese authorities to take measures to ensure that foreign reporters working in China are able to carry out their journalistic responsibilities in accordance with internationally recognized conventions," he said."


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