In Brief: Behind the Crackdown on Foreign Journalists

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.

Translation

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.

 

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0 thoughts on “In Brief: Behind the Crackdown on Foreign Journalists”

  1. Your translation is off; the article said “Since the Nobel incident last year…” and did not reference Liu Xiaobo by name.

    As to why the police are requiring press credentials, one only have to go on youtube and see the forages of a sea of people holding cameras, blocking street, creating chaos. Such scene wouldn’t be tolerated in US either, as our record of deporting foreign reporters covering Iraq war protest, and

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  2. Great post. The recent trend reminds me of the impotent man who is afraid his wife is cheating on him and so increasingly restricts her movements, spies on her, and is generally abusive…even though she hasn’t done anything wrong…yet.

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  3. Technically, it is true that the “protests” did block the streets, which would not have been tolerated in America, either. I joined a demonstration a couple of weeks ago, and we were only allowed in the dog park. Not one step onto the road.

    So if they were indeed causing chaos on the street, the police had every right to break it up.

    That’s the technical reason. As for other reasons, it’s been discussed to death here.

    CL focuses on the technical issue, and others care about everything else but that.

    No wonder this blog is in flames without a single way out.

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  4. @ Charles Liu: Translation is never word for word (OK, sometimes it is, but word for word translation is usually terrible). Moreover, it requires not only a knowledge of the subject material but also the audience who is potentially consuming the translation. I suspect Andy added in Liu Xiaobo’s name just to ensure that readers were clear on which “Nobel incident” the article was referring to.

    @ Charles and keisaat: As somone who was at the first “protest”, I can assure you that no one was blocking any streets until the police herded the crowd onto the street. As you probably know, Wangfujing is a pedestrian area, and the crowd formed on the walking street. There was always a large enough gap that passers-by could move down the street easily, and vehicles aren’t meant to be driving on the street in the first place.

    This was the case until police showed up and herded the group out from in front of the McDonalds and into the street next to it, where it was then blocking traffic. Thinking back, that was probably intentional on the police’s part, as they then moved through the group, forcing it to split in half on either side of the road so that traffic could get through. Which is perfectly fair, except that they were the ones that had forced people onto the road in the first place.

    I can assure you, Charles, that the “protest” as it originally happened would have been tolerated in the US. I’m sure you spent a lot of time poring over that one video on Youtube, but I was there, and I’ve been to plenty of protests in the US. The only way the Wangfujing protest was remarkable at all was in that there was no one actually “protesting” anything. But there was no blocked traffic, vehicular or pedestrian, until the police arrived and starting moving people.

    Moreover, I think you are confusing “requiring press credentials” with “beating and arresting” if you’re trying to describe the Chinese police’s response, which is what this post is actually about.

    Finally, and as always, just because the US does something fucked up and immoral doesn’t mean that China should also do that. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to make — when was the last time police beat reporters in the street for showing up at a protest location in the US? — but even if it was, just because America does it doesn’t mean we can’t be upset when China does it.

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  5. @Jeremiah, your analagy(sp) left out a love letter asking for rondevu every Sunday, conming from a household kown for spending extraordinary amount of money courting the wife.

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  6. I am all for freedom BUT i sort of get a giggle and satisfaction when journalists get beat up.
    Esp. those like from CNN BBC, from what i see the “tone” of their reporting is often condescending ans borderline sarcastic.
    And then they behave as if they have a right to be at a certain place. And are experts of wherever and whatever they are onto.

    Media houses are Not non-profit organizations, they are in it for the $$ just like everyone else, they are not Holy, no need to place them at an alter place.

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  7. Varun,

    I agree. Like moths to a flame, these journalists and other morons who happens to stroll by these places are asking for trouble. What are they trying to change? What are they trying to prove? These foreign journalists and foreigners are guests in China. Next time if they come there again, I wish the Chinese government would just revoke their visas.

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  8. C Custer,

    Umm first of all, don’t you need some kind of permit to protest. I know some areas you need a permit in order to protest in a “free speech” zone. Second, there is a difference between people protesting over some kind of demolition and foreign website conspiring at overthrowing the government. Why not these website and foreign reporters report on why are they really there? Or they just want to put ‘beat me’ sign on their backs?

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  9. @varun, absolutely, I can totoally see how a laowai reporter turning their nose up and claim some sort of extraterriorality right, would piss off the popo.

    Remember the “Twitter detention” story expat blogs got hot on a while back? After locating the fiancee’s twitter and followed it, it was obvious to me the woman b!tched out the police about her rights, and was detained for being confrontational with the police. Guess what, not one blogger mentioned the fact she only had to write an apology letter to get out of detention, but inestead she went on a hunger strike.

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  10. Well, some foreign journalists are condescending and arrogant. However, that doesn’t make it up for the recent police behaviour. Which was, by the way, totally illegal. Take the example of the Reuter’s reporter at Wangfujing second protest. He got rounded up in a deserted store and beat up to a pulp by four “random” guys in civil clothing. But he may have been the biggest asshole, he was still doing his job “in accordance with the law” as old Zhou Yongkang might say.

    The Chinese authorities have exhumed an old pre-2008 press law asking foreign journalists to get special permits to report in Wangfujing. “All you have to do” they said “is to call this number and get it done”. Well, turns out that the number was no longer in activity.

    Anyway, since the 2008 press laws which came with the Olympic Games, foreign journalists have the right to report or interview anywhere in public areas as long as they have the prior authorisation of their interlocutors.

    The fact is that the authorities don’t live up to their own public discourse. Just listen to what Yang Jiechi said at the NPC press conference ! That was some bad faith, my friend.

    The whole campaign has nothing to do with the foreign journalists per se. It’s just part of a bigger move against all form of political opposition that started in the wake of the Nobel incident and Wen’s failure to bring political reform on top of the agenda.

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  11. C. Bergerac,

    “In accordance to the Law” means that the foreign reporter needs a special permit to protest. That moronic reporter played stupid by showing up and ignored the warnings thus promptly ‘manhandled’. Besides, these journalists don’t follow any ethics and standards.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards

    They are more like propagandists rather to me.

    Talking about foreign journalists. Look at how the police treat foreign journalists in the US, which is pretty bad compared to China.

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  12. What’s going on in Arab lands definitely has something to do with how foreign journalists are being treated in China IMO. My personal opinions notwithstanding, my wife (who is anti-China but somewhat of a realist) even thinks that the western coverages have been overwhelmingly pro-revolution and anti-establishment (though with glaring coverage gaps such as to explain why the western nations supported Mubarak for so long if he is such a bad guy). There is no doubt that the Chinese government sees foreign journalists as proponents if not instigators in some of these revolutions. The fact that the failed “jasmine revolution” in Beijing had hundreds of foreign journalists trying to cover it (most then failed to bother mention that the revolution didn’t attract much attention) didn’t help.

    I disagree with the article that the relationship with foreign journalists was all that good even in 2008. For example, the treatment of the foreign journalists in 2008 march (Tibet riot) was terrible in that they were barred from the area. However, in 2009 foreign journalists were granted much more freedom following the Uighur riot. As the result there were more balanced reporting for everyone.

    One thing I find funny is the adjective used to modify the noun “fengqing” in this article. The term used was “leftwing fengqing”. The notion that nationalists are “leftwing” is something which is quite unique to writers of Chinese politics, especially the hacks.

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  13. I see diminishing need for the Chinese fenqings to even bother arguing with articles like this one, given how the U.S./West is turning a blind eye (or even secretly encouraging, who knows) to Saudi Arabia sending its troops into Bahrain to quash local protests. The world is watching.

    There almost is tool left for the West to punish/sanction China in any meaningful way. The only way is for the U.S. to engage SE Asia and prop up Japan and India to counter China, but China is not sleeping; it’s fast reparing ties with SE Asia as well.

    The dynamics of online wars of the words between western news outlets and Chinese netizens has been fascinating to observe. At the beginning it was always fury from the Chinese side, shouting and accusing foreign journalists of biased reporting, but now you see more and more people just go “whatever” and move from anger to sneer or contempt or jokes.

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  14. Keisaat,

    The problem with the crackdown on these Foreign Journalists is synonymous with the recent shutdown of VOA in Asia region. In the recent years, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today and soon a Chinese International news channel are providing alternative perspective and people started to believe them. People realize that these Western Journalists want to report propaganda rather than having a ‘fair and balanced’ reporting and expose them for what they are. This Foreign Reporters revolution is nothing but a last ditch effort to smear at the Chinese government and it is not working.

    The only thing good about the recent events in Japan is that probably half of these foreign reporters in China are probably in Japan now and there will be less reporters to ‘repress’ next Sunday.

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  15. Al-jazeera is not notably soft on China. It will be blocked if it is not already.

    Russia Today is government controlled; better than Chinese media, perhaps, but not an independent voice. (Read up on what Putin has done to Russian media)

    China International TV is at the end of the day a Communist Party organ like every other outlet, perhaps slightly sugarcoated for a foreign audience. A certain degree of foreign curiosity about lighter subjects in China might be satisfied by this.

    Say what you will about VOA, but it does what Chinese media, even Phoenix, still cannot do on sensitive subjects: tell both sides of a story.

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  16. U.S is at war(proxy war) with China wake up people. A couple of weeks ago Hillary Clinton announce “support” for Chinese’s dissident by pouring about 60 million dollar to created software programs to counter and protected the dissident from the Chinese government censorship. A week later the Jasmine Revolutions started to happen. Look all of you who is pro-democracy Chinese, it fine to support freedom and all but just remember not to be used as a pawn by other government or support burning down your OWN country by having Revolutions. We need reforms not a new government system.

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  17. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/04/learning-to-love-the-shallow-divisive-unreliable-new-media/8415/

    I find this article funny of how journalism in the West is dying because it is more influenced by markets and profit. Imagine if some Western journalist actually defended China actions toward this crackdown, Westerners would complain that the company is a communist sympathizer and the Western journalist would promptly be fired.

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  18. “Say what you will about VOA, but it does what Chinese media, even Phoenix, still cannot do on sensitive subjects: tell both sides of a story.”

    Why can’t people just call spade a spade? VoA is fully funded by the US government, was created as a propaganda tool to advance the interests of the US, and is still being used this way. The conservatives would of otherwise pulled funding a long time ago. It’s an organ of the US government no less than how the Chinese government influences the media there.

    You don’t even need to look that hard to prove this: simply look for articles on VoA which talks about the most notable political prisoners in the US today, Bradly Manning. Never mind telling both sides of the story, VoA pretty much skipped the topic altogether, kinda like how Chinese media avoids talking about LiuXiaobo. The same would go for the trial of Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who killed men in Pakistan. The are a few articles on VoA about Davis, but the journalistic effort put into these articles are so light that even a high school student can find more information about the trial.

    I have written this many times, but the fact that Chinese media is biased doesn’t justify the biased/lazy Western media when it comes to international reporting. Chinese media at least doesn’t masquerade itself as “fair and balanced”. On the other hand, people who watch Western news about China often think they know more about China than the Chinese living in China due to Chinese media’s censorship. That’s just plain stupid.

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  19. i agree with eh, and i think it’s entirely appropriate and sensitive to hope for nuclear warfare given the nuclear crisis in Japan.

    see? if a chinese person wrote “nuke america,” it gets reported. but everyday you see trolls that are not chinese, and it’s just “result of free speech.”

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  20. @eh, I think from our government’s regular defense reviews, it’s pretty clear we ain’t gonna do that in any official capacity.

    So I assume you are talking about nuclear terrorism. Good luck with that pal, China is a huge place. But if anyone in China thinks like you, IMHO the easiest thing to do would be get the F out of China, if you hate the place so much.

    For us laowai, we just back to where we came from. For Chinese nationals, y’all can just claim you got them Falun in your tummy and you qualify for asylum here in US.

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  21. …just because the US does something fucked up and immoral doesn’t mean that China should also do that.

    Everyone knows that the written word is mightier than the sword. As such, journalists can be considered as a ‘weapon’. The State in question has the right to defend itself especially when journalists show up with a foreign written agenda (not necessarily from a government office) designed to undermine it’s sovereignty.

    Although the US’s behaviour on the World Stage is inexcusable, the precedence has been set. Journalists need to remember their place when visiting foreign countries. If journalists tried to show both sides of the story I would then be sympathetic to them. The reality is that this is not the case.

    …when was the last time police beat reporters in the street for showing up at a protest location in the US?

    There is more than one way to skin a cat. Although outright beating isn’t par for the course (excluding G-Bay), the use of litigation is. Sue the SOB until the target has no money left for his defence, tack on the legal bill of the other party, then finish him off by intimidating the Industry to prevent future employment (success varies with type of Industry). Surprisingly, there have been violations here in Canada including kidnapping (don’t remember if it was from the police or intelligence community). The US methodology is chiefly financial and psychological than physical.

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  22. In the 1970s nobody would have believed that the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc would collapse in little over a decade. Russia has still not recovered from “shock capitalism” and a precipitous decline in all social and economic parameters. Ironically many in the former eastern bloc who were chaffing at the bit for democracy and unfettered capitalism are now nostalgic for their former secure lives. China has made unimaginable progress since 1949 through sustained governmentally directed social and economic change. The conditions for a reversal of this tide however still exist. Democracy in the West is the rule of corporate and financial oligarchs with a thin veneer of popular representation. It would be far worse in China and revert quickly to the farce that is now Russian political democracy. You might not like it but a firm hand on the rudder is what China needs for the foreseeable future.

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