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.