The Chinese government intensified attempts to restrict foreign journalists’ access to parts of the country in 2017, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) has said after conducting an annual survey of its members. The government is also increasingly using the visa renewal process to pressure correspondents and news organisations whose coverage it does not like, the club found.
In the survey, which was conducted in December, 40 per cent of respondents felt reporting conditions in 2017 had deteriorated from the year before, compared with 29 per cent in 2016.
Reporting became more difficult in many areas of China, but especially in Xinjiang, China’s heavily-securitised far west region, the FCCC said.
72 per cent of respondents who traveled to the region were told by officials and security agents that reporting was prohibited or restricted, compared with 42 per cent in the previous year.
“I was detained for three hours in Xinjiang and questioned by officials with the Ministry of State Security, who told me I could not report without prior permission, and demanded access to my laptop. When I refused, they seized my laptop and tailed me for two hours back to a hotel in Kashgar. The laptop was returned 12 hours later,” the report quoted Nathan VanderKlippe from Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail as saying.
Reporters from AFP were also stopped from working in Xinjiang and Tangshan while they were covering the death of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and the trials of human rights activists.
Other areas where respondents reported similar difficulties included: Tibetan-inhabited regions; areas near the border with North Korea; areas near Chinese borders with south-east Asian countries; and in industrial districts such as steel-producing districts.
Respondents also reported greater difficulties in renewing their visas, with 15 per cent saying they encountered problems during the process, an increase from 6 per cent in the previous year. Twice the number of respondents compared to 2016 said the problems were related to their reporting.
“The process itself was smoother than usual, but my interview ahead of picking up my press card was pretty unpleasant this year. I was scolded for writing on Liu Xiaobo. Later, when I mentioned that I hadn’t violated any foreign ministry guidelines on reporting I was told, somewhat ominously, that China has ‘other laws,’” a reporter for a U.S. media organization was quoted as saying about the renewal process.
The survey was completed by 117 out of 218 of the club’s correspondent members.