China Summons U.K. Ambassador as Media Row Intensifies

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador, escalating a row between the countries over press freedom.

The ministry said in a statement that Ambassador Caroline Wilson posted a public article on the popular WeChat messaging service complaining about sanctions on foreign media, even as those news outlets spread fake news. The article “deliberately confused defamation with critical news reporting” and was “selectively blind” to the oppression of Chinese media, the ministry said.

“A critical media plays a positive role as watchdog of government action and protecting those without a voice,” Wilson wrote earlier this month, when she shared the Chinese-language article on Twitter.

Tensions between the countries have risen over China’s early handling of the pandemic, and because Boris Johnson’s government has offered Hong Kong residents a pathway to British citizenship after Beijing imposed a national security law last year on the former British colony. The U.K. has also criticized China for its treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province.

Those frictions have spilled into media access. In February, the British media regulator pulled Chinese state-backed television channel CGTN off the air, citing an issue with transferring its license to an entity controlled by China’s Communist Party. The Chinese government subsequently took the British Broadcasting Corp.’s World News off the air.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Wilson’s article showed “patronizing arrogance.” It said her actions were “inconsistent with the status of diplomats” and cited Chinese public anger over its publication.

Wilson hit back at the ministry’s remarks.

“The U.K. is committed to media freedom, and to championing democracy and human rights around the world,” a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said. “We will always defend media freedom and the right of journalists to do their job.”

WeChat restricted sharing of the article hours after its original publication on the embassy’s official account.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended opinion pieces written by former Chinese ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming at a regular press briefing Wednesday. “The articles never tried to stir up trouble and never attacked the U.K.’s system,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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