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China Restricting Foreign Media Access, Often in the Name of COVID

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Earlier this month, The Foreign Correspondence Club of China (FCCC), the professional association of foreign journalists in China, released a report entitled Zero COVID, Many Controls: Covering China in 2022. The report details many ways in which China restricted press freedom in 2022, including by using COVID as a pretext. The report features survey results of foreign correspondents, discussed below.

Barriers in Accessing China

Foreign correspondents had several issues with gaining access to China generally, according to the report. Fifty-six percent of foreign bureaus noted delays in receiving J-1 visas for their correspondents. Chinese authorities told sixty percent of the correspondents that did not receive a visa that it was delayed due to “geopolitical tensions.” Thirty-eight percent of respondents claimed that their bureaus lacked sufficient staff because of an inability to bring in reporters. Twenty-four percent of respondents experienced harassment or delay entering China, while 10 percent experienced the same when leaving China.

COVID as Excuse for Denying Access

Chinese authorities often used COVID as a pretext to deny foreign correspondents access in China, according to the report. Sixty-three percent of respondents claimed that Chinese authorities used COVID prevention as a reason to deny them access, even though authorities did not use those same measures on Chinese citizens. Approximately 42 (41.5) percent of respondents claimed that COVID was used to cancel their reporting trips at least four times. Forty-six percent of respondents were either denied access or told to leave somewhere in China under the pretext of health and safety, while those respondents were not considered a risk under China’s standards. Forty-seven percent of respondents experienced travel issues due to China’s healthcode system. Twenty-one percent of respondents experienced lockdowns which prevented their reporting.

Threatening Chinese Sources and Colleagues

The report discussed the CCP’s harassment of and threats to foreign correspondents’ Chinese sources. Thirty-eight percent of respondents had Chinese sources that had been in some way harassed or called in for questioning, up from 25 percent of respondents in 2021. The report also claimed that “multiple respondents” stated that their Chinese sources had been told by police not to speak to foreign journalists.

Additionally, 45 percent of respondents claimed that their Chinese colleagues were harassed in 2022, an increase from 40 percent in 2021. Forty-six percent of respondents stated that they had prepared resources to support and reassure their Chinese colleagues.

Surveillance

Eighty-five percent of respondents believed that their communications were “possibly or definitely compromised” on WeChat by government authorities, compared with 72 percent who felt the same with their phone calls, and 61 percent who believed that their office of home was bugged. Forty-one percent of respondents “regularly” feared surveillance was compromising their reporting and their ability to interview and communicate with sources. Thirty-six percent of respondents believed that their internet accounts had been hacked.

Additionally, fifty-seven percent of respondents claimed that they were followed during their reporting, and 45 percent reported that Chinese security had monitored their interviews. Half of respondents attested to disruptions by authorities during their interviews, and 18 percent claimed to have been detained during reporting.

CCP’s Response to the Report

The CCP’s criticism of the report was swift and harsh. One Global Times article called the FCCC “an illegal organization” that has engaged in “strong ideological prejudice and malicious smearing.” An article in China Daily called the reports of “travel restrictions” claims during COVID-19 “risible.”

The Global Times article mentioned above also quizzically claimed that the report failed to mention “the massive help and convenience that China provides for foreign journalists…” and that “[i]n fact, compared with the US and the West, China is quite tolerant of legal and compliant journalists in China…” Another Global Times article similarly opined that “China has always welcomed foreign media to report about the country in a comprehensive and objective way…” and that “China has also been providing support and convenience for international journalists to report about China in accordance with international practices and laws.”

The FCCC report shows a concerted effort by the CCP to suppress foreign media in China. Often this obstruction is explained away by safety concerns related to COVID. Suppression of truth is a common weapon of the CCP, as demonstrated with its narratives combating the lab-leak theory and charges of humans rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The CCP’s hamstringing of foreign journalists gives further evidence that it cannot be trusted.

 

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China

Rejecting Détente Offer, China Throws Shade at Taiwan’s New President

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Follow Steve Postal: @HebraicMosaic

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China’s propaganda machine has responded to Taiwan President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration address, which was conciliatory to the mainland, with belligerence. Rather than accepting Lai’s olive branch of détente based on mutual respect, China used Lai’s inauguration speech to slander the new president, claim that he does not have the mandate of his own people, and threaten to use force on the island.

China Slanders Taiwan’s New President

China reacted to Lai’s inauguration speech by slandering the new Taiwanese president. A Global Times article asserted that Lai “wants to deceive Taiwan residents,” and is “malicious.” Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, stated that Lai has “an extremely arrogant attitude and more radical views,” and that Lai’s inauguration speech was “[f]ull of hostility and provocation and made up of lies and deception,” according to another Global Times article. Similarly, Zhu Fenglian, another spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, called Lai’s actions “vile,” according to a third Global Times article. A China Daily editorial labelled him a “diehard separatist, ” while another China Daily editorial called Lai’s quest for Taiwan’s independence an “evil pursuit.”

China Claims Lai Doesn’t Speak for the People of Taiwan

Despite Lai winning Taiwan’s democratic election, China portrayed Lai as going against the will of his people. Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, called Lai is  “a traitor to mainstream public opinion on the island and a disruptor of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to Global Times. Zhu Fenglian, another spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, stated that “insightful individuals in Taiwan have expressed deep concern” about Lai, “reflecting the shared sentiments of the majority of Taiwan compatriots,” and that Lai’s colleagues in the DPP party are “in fact very insecure and fear that compatriots on both sides of the Straits will come closer together,” according to Global Times.

China Threatens to Use Force on Taiwan

China also responded to Lai’s inaugural speech by issuing threats and not-so-veiled threats to use force against Taiwan. One Global Times article stated that “Lai’s ‘Taiwan independence’ remarks are playing with fire, and those who play with fire will be bound to get themselves burned.” According to China Daily, the naval exercises conducted around Taiwan by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from May 23-24 in response to Lai’s speech were “legitimate countermeasures” that send “a clear message that [the PLA] will prevent ‘Taiwan independence’ at all costs.” Another China Daily article stated that the Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun “…left no one in any doubt that should it prove necessary Beijing will not hesitate to use force to quash any bid to divide the nation. Calling the separatists’ pursuit of ‘independence’ an act of self-destruction, he stated unequivocally that ‘Whoever dares to sever Taiwan from China will be crushed.’”

Another Global Times article maintained that “[t]he actions of the Lai authorities will definitely invite lessons and countermeasures from the mainland” and that “[i]f Lai tries to escalate tensions in the coming years, the mainland will respond and use all available tools to make the Taiwan authorities pay a heavy price.” A third Global Times article, quoting “analysts” stated that “the pursuit of ‘Taiwan independence’ is a futile endeavor that will lead to detrimental and calamitous consequences for Taiwan island.”

Rather than accepting Lai’s reasonable offer to resume cordial relations based on mutual respect, China has chosen to ratchet up its propaganda attacks against the island. As China continues to beat the drums of war, will Taiwan hold the line?

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