Members of international media in China have been intimidated, detained and beaten while reporting on the ‘strolling protests’, inspired by revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, in major Chinese cities over the past few weekends. The current crackdown draws criticisms from the international community, including the US, European Union and Amnesty International, and is an abrupt departure from the friendly climate during and after the 2008 Olympics, when regulations on foreign reporters were relaxed.
What makes China so bold as to taint its international image? A recent piece from Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, translated in full below, explains.
To foreign journalists in China, the difference between Spring 2008 and Spring 2011 is great. In mainland parlance, the former is ‘as warm as Spring’, while the latter is ‘as cold and ruthless as the winter.’
The honeymoon period between Beijing and foreign journalists is short. Now is the most tense period since 1989. If Beijing was humble and sincere toward foreign journalists during the Olympics, then today it is angry and disturbed. Judging from the Foreign Ministry spokenswoman Jiang Yu arguing with Western journalists, official mouthpieces’ open accusation of foreign media’s ‘false reporting’, to Beijing Information Office Director-General Wang Hui’s mocking of foreign journalists looking for Jasmine as ‘drawing water with a bamboo basket’ – all in vain – we can see that the Chinese government is unflinchingly merciless.
According to Beijing standard, that the Western media vilifying and demonizing China has been true for years. How come Beijing is so angry this time round?
First, China has become stronger. Those in charge think that they don’t need to consider China’s international image any more. ‘Go our way, whatever the others may say.’ Nationalism is especially strong in recent years, with ‘angry youths’ demonstrating a louder and tougher voice toward ‘foreign devils’.
Then, although mainland media were subject to several purges recently, they still continue to breach the boundary, showing their tendency to defy authority. The recent ‘fight fake news’ campaign represents a tightened grip on the media by the government. Moreover, the government suspects that some mainland journalists have secret communications with their foreign counterparts. Therefore, the crackdown on foreign journalists serves as a warning to mainland ones. Once the red line is drawn, mainland media will voluntarily obey. Amid such stirs, no one would want to stand out.
Since the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo last year, foreign correspondents in Beijing have become more active, which annoys the government. But at the time, they have real targets to go after (Liu Xia and other dissidents). Today, they are randomly stationed at Wangfujing, without any concrete targets. This, coupled with the ambiguous attitude of Western nations toward the Jasmine Revolutions in North Africa, triggers the merciless crackdown on Western journalists.