U.S. Accuses China of Provoking Harassment of Foreign Reporters
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. expressed concern over harassment and intimidation of foreign correspondents in China, marking an escalation of the two nations’ dispute over the work of journalists.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter Friday that Washington was “deeply concerned” by the treatment of journalists from overseas, adding that Beijing “can and must do better.” Separately, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that China’s actions contradict its professed support of foreign media coverage.
“Its harsh rhetoric, promoted through official state media, toward any news it perceives to be critical of PRC policies, has provoked negative public sentiment,” Price said, referring to China’s formal name. He added that such rhetoric was “leading to tense, in-person confrontations and harassment, including online verbal abuse and death threats of journalists simply doing their jobs.”
China pushed back at the U.S. criticism on Friday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling a regular news briefing the comments by Blinken and Price “distort facts, confuse right with wrong, and aim to pressure China with unfounded charges.” “The wrong practice once shows the U.S. has double standards and is bullying China in terms of media and press freedom,” he added.
The rights of foreign journalists operating in China were “fully protected,” Zhao said on Thursday.
The U.S. and China ramped up restrictions on each other’s media outlets during the last months of the Trump administration, forcing journalists to leave or providing only short-term visas. China said after a March meeting of the nations’ top diplomats in Alaska that the sides had agreed to discussions on the dispute, although Beijing has since threatened retaliation against U.S. correspondents if Washington moved “to deliberately make things hard for our journalists.”
While the Communist Party has long bristled at critical foreign news coverage, diplomats and state media have increasingly accused individual outlets and correspondents of trying to “smear” China. Such attacks have escalated since the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, when overseas news media bolstered local debate about whether the government acted quickly enough to sound the alarm and halt the disease’s spread.
Similar tensions surfaced this month over reports of major flooding in the central province of Henan that killed at least 99 people. The provincial branch of the Communist Youth League, an official arm of the ruling party, used social media to urge members of the public to confront a BBC reporter over his coverage of the disaster, the New York Times and other media reported.
Social media users responded with comments about how it would be acceptable for them to go out carrying things like a wrench, brick or scalpel, the Times said Thursday. Later, a correspondent for German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle was confronted in Zhengzhou by a crowd of people who apparently confused him for a BBC journalist.
Mathias Boelinger, the DW reporter, said on Twitter that people pushed him and tried to take his phone, while “yelling that I was a bad guy and that I should stop smearing China.” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement Tuesday that the group was “disappointed and dismayed at the growing hostility against foreign media in China,” blaming the sentiment on “rising Chinese nationalism sometimes directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”
Blinken’s No. 2, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, brought up the concerns during her visit to Tianjin earlier this week. She called on Beijing “to ensure that journalists remain safe and able to report freely,” said Price, the State Department spokesman.
Zhao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to criticize reports of harassment of foreign journalists covering the flooding in Henan on Thursday, and dismissed the FCCC’s statements as the complaints of an “illegal” organization. He also reaffirmed his criticism of the BBC, blaming its reporting for the negative public views.
“It smears China and violates its professional ethics,” he said. “There is no such thing as love or hatred that happen for no reason.”
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