China Takes Aim at ‘Illegal’ Club for Foreign Correspondents

China slammed a foreign correspondents’ club in the country as an “illegal organization,” broadening its attack on journalists whose reports differ from the government’s official line.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has no sense of right and wrong and lacks principles, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing Thursday in Beijing.

“Fewer than half of foreign correspondents in China are members of the FCCC, and most of them are Western journalists from the U.S. and Europe,” she said. “Foreign journalists in China should feel lucky.”

The FCCC declined to comment.

While Beijing has long described the FCCC as illegal, the rebuke as a whole was longer and more detailed than in the past. Hua said statements by the board were crafted by its nine board members and without the knowledge of other members. The FCC board is elected by members, and correspondents are sometimes invited to participate in the drafting process.

China’s criticism of reporters from abroad has become more pointed under the rule of President Xi Jinping. China regularly hits back at criticism of its activities in Xinjiang, where Western government say as many as 1 million Muslim Uyghurs have been locked up and forced to work.

China denies the allegations, saying its policies are aimed at fighting religious extremism and providing jobs. Spokespeople for the government now regularly criticize reporters during press briefings, saying they lack credibility or complaining about their use of the word “camps” in Xinjiang. Beijing insists they be called vocational education “centers.”

The BBC’s China correspondent John Sudworth recently left Beijing for Taipei. That followed criticism from the government over the broadcaster’s recent coverage, as well as what Sudworth said was intimidation of his family and threats of legal action. The BBC News Press Team said in a statement that his reporting “exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know.”

The Communist Party-backed Global Times characterized Sudworth’s work as biased. “From stigmatizing China as being the origin of the novel coronavirus to claiming Xinjiang’s cotton was ‘tainted,’ Sudworth has participated in many of BBC’s notorious reports attacking China in recent years,” it said.

Some Bloomberg News journalists are among members of the FCCC. Beijing last year kicked a slew of foreign reporters out of the country, saying most of the expulsions were in response to curbs the U.S. placed on Chinese reporters.

Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian national who worked for state broadcaster CGTN, is being detained on national security charges, and two journalists working for Australian media outlets fled the country in September last year after being questioned by security agents.

China sentenced former lawyer Zhang Zhan to four years in prison in December over her posts about the coronavirus response in Wuhan, according to media reports.

Haze Fan, a member of Bloomberg News’s Beijing bureau, was detained by the Beijing National Security Bureau also in December on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities that jeopardized national security. The Foreign Ministry said in February that the case remained under investigation.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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