As China continues to handle the fallout of the novel coronavirus that first originated in Wuhan in Hubei province in early-to-mid December, the Chinese Communist Party announced today that it would rescind the press credentials for certain journalists working at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and would further demand operating details from those three organizations along with Time magazine and Voice of America.
In its statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said
[…] in response to the US slashing the staff size of Chinese media outlets in the US, which is expulsion in all but name, China demands that journalists of US citizenship working with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post whose press credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020 notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within ten calendar days. They will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.
Those journalists would be limited from working in China, including in Hong Kong, where mass protests last year fueled by a growing democracy and independence movement brought increasingly critical global attention onto the Beijing government.
China had previously kicked out three reporters from The Wall Street Journal in mid-February, for what it claimed was an insensitive headline in the newspaper’s opinion pages. The Journal’s opinion section operates outside of its newsroom.
China’s suppression of external dissent is also being mirrored with regard to its own citizens. While there was a bit of an open window for discussion as the government attempted to moderate blowback over its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, internet censors according to The New York Times are now once again clamping down hard on negative conversations and adding additional reinforcements to police online discussions:
Little is known about the group, formally part of the Cybersecurity Defense Bureau, which has long policed hacking and online fraud. But occasional government releases offer clues. In 2016, the 50-million person region of Guangxi said it had almost 1,200 internet police officers. The goal was to have one internet police officer for every 10,000 people in the region, a sign of the force’s ambitions.
The U.S. and China have been locked in a trade war over the past few years, but the looming global depression has placed ever more acute pressure on a relationship that has frayed since China’s turn toward authoritarianism under President Xi Jinping and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Last week, the U.S. State Department issued its annual human rights report, which particularly singled out China as among the worst offenders globally. In a paragraph that should win an award for semicolon usage, the department wrote that:
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; substantial problems with the independence of the judiciary; physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); severe restrictions of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement (for travel within the country and overseas); refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; corruption; a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included forced sterilization or abortions; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.