In a report, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China stated, the Chinese government has “weaponised” the issuance of visas as part of a stepped-up campaign to apply pressure on foreign journalists operating in the country.
In February, China revoked the visas of three reporters from Wall Street Journal following a report which titled China as the “real sick man of Asia”.
In 2019, a reporter with the WSJ was forced to leave after China declined to renew his visa.
“Since 2013, when Xi Jinping’s ascension to power was completed, China has forced out nine foreign journalists, either through outright expulsion or by non-renewal of visas. The FCCC fears that China is preparing to expel more journalists,” said the group citing responses from 114 reporters to a survey.
“Chinese authorities are using visas as weapons against the foreign press like never before, expanding their deployment of a long-time intimidation tactic as working conditions for foreign journalists in China markedly deteriorated in 2019,” said the FCCC.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a typical Chinese fashion, Beijing has denied limiting the freedom of the press for foreign reporters even as it continues to weaponise visas. China has also criticized harshly foreign media coverage of its modern concentration camps which it houses Uighurs in Xinjiang; Beijing has also been critical of democracy protests in Hong Kong as well as reports critical of its senior leadership.
For a second year in a row, none of the respondents to the survey said reporting conditions in China had improved, with 82% saying they had experienced interference, harassment or violence while out reporting, said the FCCC.
“As China reaches new heights of economic influence, it has shown a growing willingness to use its considerable state power to suppress factual reporting that does not fit with the global image it seeks to present,” said the report. “As scrutiny is intensifying toward China, it is more important than ever for foreign media to have freedom to report and cover the country”.
“The ability for foreign journalists to be based in China without impediment is crucial for quality international news coverage about the country.”
According to a government directory published in 2019, there were 536 foreign journalists registered in mainland China.