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January 1, 2013 6:38 am
A correspondent for the New York Times was forced to leave mainland China because the authorities had not renewed his journalist visa, signalling Beijing’s increasingly fraught relationship with foreign media.
Chris Buckley, a reporter who had been working in China since 2000 and rejoined the Times in September last year after a stint with Reuters, left for Hong Kong after his visa expired on Monday and the Chinese government had not acted on his application for a new one.
The case comes as Beijing battles a growing wave of revelations about the financial dealings and power struggles of the Communist party’s ruling elite. Some senior party members are becoming more vocal with criticism of problems such as reform inertia and corruption and are starting to turn to international media as a channel to publicise their views.
The New York Times dropped a bombshell in October when it published an investigative report about the business dealings and financial assets of family members of Wen Jiabao, China’s outgoing premier. The Times has had its websites blocked in China since the story came out.
Bloomberg, which ran an account of the investments of some relatives of Xi Jinping, who took over as Communist party chief from Hu Jintao in November, has also been blocked since the story appeared in June and has also seen some impact on its terminal business in China.
Other foreign media sites have been blocked when certain critical stories appeared, but there have been no blanket blackouts such as those applied to Bloomberg and the Times although other media also ran investigative stories.
China-based foreign reporters expressed surprise at Mr Buckley’s problem because David Barboza, the New York Times reporter whose name was on the Wen Jiabao expose, managed to get his visa renewed.
Mr Buckley was among a handful of foreign reporters frequently breaking news last year on the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, the ambitious Communist party politician who was purged in March, and on the jockeying for power in the run-up to the party’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition in November.
He is respected in different political camps in China. Observers ranging from political reform advocates to Maoists praise him as knowledgeable, fair and objective – rare in a country where those reporting negative news are often vilified as having an agenda to demonise China.
The New York Times appealed to the Chinese government to process its reporters’ visa requests.
“I regret that Chris Buckley has been forced to relocate outside of China despite our repeated requests to renew his journalist visa,” said Jill Abramson, executive editor, in a statement. “I hope the Chinese authorities will issue him a new visa as soon as possible and allow Chris and his family to return to Beijing.”
She added that Philip Pan, who has been appointed the Times’ Beijing bureau chief, had also been waiting for his visa for several months.
Mr Buckley’s case marks the second time in less than a year that China has made a veteran foreign reporter leave the country. Melissa Chan, the Beijing correspondent for Al Jazeera English, was expelled in May.
The annual visa renewal process is Beijing’s main tool with which to punish foreign journalists for reports it does not like. The Communist party strictly censors the domestic media through instructions that its propaganda officials give to editors, and punishes reporters who do not comply.
But foreign reporters are generally safe except for occasional short detentions, and Beijing normally tries to disrupt their reporting by threatening or punishing those who work with them such as sources, assistants, translators or drivers.
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