US slams China over treatment of foreign journalists


US-China relations updates

The US has slammed China for intimidating foreign journalists as the Biden administration expresses growing disquiet ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The US state department said it was “deeply concerned with the increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment, and intimidation of US and other foreign journalists” in China, after reporters were accosted while covering deadly floods in Henan province this month.

“The PRC government claims to welcome foreign media and support their work, but its actions tell a different story,” said Ned Price, state department spokesperson. “We call on the PRC to act as a responsible nation hoping to welcome foreign media and the world for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

A BBC report last weekend about deaths on the subway in Zhengzhou, Henan sparked anger on Weibo, the Chinese microblog network, after inaccurate Chinese subtitles said passengers had been “thrown on the platform to die”.

Nationalist commentators launched a campaign to find the journalist in the report after being encouraged to do so by the Henan branch of the Communist Youth League, an official party organisation.

A crowd later surrounded and manhandled reporters from Deutsche Welle and the Los Angeles Times after mistaking a journalist for the German media outlet for the BBC correspondent. Similar incidents were reported by journalists from the AP and Al Jazeera.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, on Thursday rejected a statement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Beijing that criticised the “harassment”. Zhao said the comments included “groundless accusations about the reporting environment in China”.

Sino-US relations are at their worst level in decades. Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state, visited China earlier this week in what was only the second high-level meeting between the countries since Joe Biden became president.

Sherman raised numerous concerns with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister. Price said this included the “importance of media access, freedom from harassment, and press freedom”. The Chinese gave the US diplomat a list of their own complaints about American policies.

The latest criticism from the Biden administration was delivered a day after Qin Gang, the new Chinese ambassador to the US, arrived in Washington. He told reporters that relations between the two countries were at a “new critical juncture” that posed challenges and opportunities.

But Qin added that the “door of China-US relations . . . cannot be closed”, in comments that were much more conciliatory than recent remarks towards Washington.

The US and China are locked in a rhetorical confrontation over issues ranging from Beijing’s persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang to its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. Some US lawmakers have called for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved from China.

Beijing has rebuked the US for what it says is interference in its internal affairs.