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Scolding an errant reporter

Newfornminister
New Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

It was like getting sent to the principal’s office for bad behavior.

I was summoned into the Foreign Ministry today for a meeting with a fairly senior official, the head of the information department for North America, Europe and Oceania.

My usual point of contact within the Foreign Ministry, a young diplomat from Shandong province, ushered me to a small meeting room off the lobby of the ministry with big comfy armchairs, fresh flowers, etc.

Tea was brought in. There were just three of us there.

The senior official launched into a polite account of his own background. He is relatively new in the job, and I had previously dealt only with his predecessor.

Then began the dressing down. He noted I had recently been to Tibet and read aloud from a sheet in front of him containing excerpts from a recent article I had written. He noted that I did not have permission to travel to Tibet as a journalist but did so against regulations. He said that I affirmed in an article that foreign reporters are generally allowed in Tibet just once a year, and that China’s policy is repressive toward Tibetans. He made some other general comments and summed up by saying that my writings were not true and “unacceptable” to the Chinese government.

He then asked for my point of view. I recounted how I had sought permission to go far in advance through the Foreign Ministry and foreign affairs office of Lhasa but received no reply, and that my request was to cover an utterly non-political and time-sensitive event (the current climbing season on Mount Everest). I complained that once I had arrived, security agents followed me frequently, and people I had contact with were subject to lengthy interrogation and even hefty fines.

We went back and forth a bit. It was clear to me that this kind of political drama unfolds all the time at the Foreign Ministry, though less so with journalists than diplomats. Some nation’s ambassador is pulled in so that China can formally express its grievances. Or some foreign diplomat marches in to protest an action or position by China that it doesn’t like. It is all politeness. No rancor.

Both sides present their views. No minds are changed. Case closed.

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Comments

Arthur Borges

What point were you trying to make by NOT applying for permission before going there?

nanheyangrouchuan

I think european journalists are considered more benign and China friendly than US journalists. China and the US are headed for a showdown and the EU governments believe they can talk China into mending its ways.

Tim J

Zo, the pre-Olympics easing of restrictions does not affect the rule that requires all foreigners (not just foreign journalists) to get permits to travel there. This is a very major barrier to entry. The J-1 visa we journalists have is a huge red flag. It occurred to me later that Chinese officials may have thought that my visit to Everest was because I might have had foreknowledge that Tibet activists were going to unfurl a banner there. I visited a week before that incident. Actually I had no prior knowledge of the incident, had little interest in it once it happened, not finding it newsworthy.

Dan, on what comes next, I presume nothing. I don't think China wants to give the boot to a journalist in the run-up to the Olympics. Wouldn't look good. It is likely a signal to foreign journalists in general to watch their step on Tibet matters. I may be off base but that is my initial presumption.

China Law Blog

What next? Will this be it?

Zorana  Bakovic

Tim, what about the pre-Olympic easing of the restrictions?

Zo (your colleague from Beijing)

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