China Withholds Visa Approvals for New York Times, Bloomberg Journalists

The New York Times

Authorities appear to be retaliating over stories about wealth amassed by rulers' families.

Chinese authorities have been withholding residence visas for reporters working for The New York Times and Bloomberg in what appears to be retaliation for the agencies' investigations into wealth accumulated by leaders' families.

Should the government delay renewals for visas due to expire by the end of the year, it would effectively shut down the two organizations' newsgathering operations in the country.

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Both American news organizations have had their websites blocked in China since late last year, after each published detailed investigative reports exposing the wealth amassed by the relatives of Chinese leaders -- including President Xi Jinping and former premier Wen Jiabao. Journalists at both companies could face expulsion this month if the visas are not issued.

Every year, foreign correspondents in China have to renew their journalist visas. Until this year, the process involved getting press credentials renewed by the foreign ministry, then handing in one's passport to the Public Security Bureau to get the journalist visa, a process that took around eight working days.

This year the process takes 18 working days -- the foreign ministry process is the same, but the Public Security Bureau now requires 15 working days to process the visa.

A further complication, which has not been rigidly enforced this year but will be next year, is that the renewal process must begin 30 days before the expiry of the visa.

This has caused a fair amount of resentment among foreign journalists, as it means many will be without passports for numerous weeks during a busy news period in the region, and many correspondents will not be able to go home for the holidays.

Some of the Times journalists who have been threatened with expulsion had handed in their passports and had been given receipts, only to be told to take back their empty passports and contact the foreign ministry after the newspaper ran a report last month detailing ties between JPMorgan Chase and a consultancy in China run by Wen's daughter.

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The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said it is disturbed by the situation.

"In particular, we have found that the Chinese authorities are increasingly using the denial of visas, or delays in their approval, in an apparent effort to influence journalists' coverage," the FCCC said in a statement to members.

"The authorities have given no public explanation for their actions, leading to the impression that they have been taken in reprisal for reporting that displeased the government," the statement ran.

The New York Times China bureau chief Philip Pan has been waiting for more than 18 months for a visa, while correspondent Chris Buckley has been in Hong Kong awaiting a visa for a year.

During his visit last week, Vice President Joe Biden met journalists working in Beijing and publicly criticized their treatment by the Chinese government, and he also raised the issue directly with President Xi.

The Chinese-language websites of The Wall Street Journal and Thomson Reuters have also been blocked in China since last month.

The Chinese government has not commented publicly on the issue since last week, when foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted China's treatment of foreign journalists complies with the country's laws and regulations.