Media relations between China and the West now seem to be a regular theme at the regular press conferences held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). At a press conference yesterday, spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked by the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper to comment on a news report from the Wall Street Journal that sought to “play up” concerns, according to the reporter, about whether the Chinese-developed Sinopharm vaccine was adequately protecting those vaccinated in the Seychelles.
Broadly accusing Western media of “disinformation,” Hua responded: “I noticed relevant reports. Indeed, certain Western media outlets are obsessed with smearing the safety and effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. This is not the first time they spread disinformation against China. It once again exposes their unhealthy mindset of denigrating China at every turn.”
Using a phrase, “positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量), that has been a centerpiece of Xi Jinping policy on the media, referring to an emphasis on uplifting messages over criticism, Hua added: “I hope media organizations can follow the principles of authenticity, objectivity and justice, report on the epidemic and vaccines in an impartial and fact-based manner, and use their voice to inject more positive energy to promote vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.”
Asked by the South China Morning Post to comment on remarks she made one day earlier about Chinese journalists being forced to leave the United States, Hua alleged that the US “has used every possible means to suppress Chinese media.” She referred to a February 2020 order from the US State Department requiring five Chinese state-run media outlets to register as “foreign missions,” and a March 2020 order that limited the number of Chinese journalists for state-run media outlets who could work in the US. Hua referred to this second action as an “expulsion,” though the March rules from the State Department did not amount to outright expulsion of the journalists.
Restrictions against foreign journalists, and intimidation in the midst of their work, are well-documented. But Hua sought to portray China’s treatment of journalists as humane in contrast to the US:
As reporters, you can easily imagine how you will feel if your press card is subjected to revocation at any time, or its validity will expire in just a few days after having a hard time getting the application approved, leaving you no choice but to immediately apply for a renewal for another three months.
Even though China has been doing its best to provide conveniences to foreign correspondents in both their life and work, some may still worry that they may encounter some trouble returning to China from their home country against the backdrop of COVID-19. The Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been accommodating their concerns and providing conveniences. I suggest that you put yourself in the shoes of Chinese journalists working in the US. For US journalists, I hope you may inform your government that most of you have visas valid for a year, and that we haven’t taken any countermeasures for US moves to restrict Chinese journalists’ visa validity to a maximum of 90 days.
At a press conference today, Hua Chunying was asked by a Bloomberg reporter to comment further on the departure of Chinese state media journalists from the US, which the day before she had called “politically-motivated suppression.” As Hua responded, she suggested that the majority of foreign journalists working in China are granted one-year visas, a statement that does not accord with the experience of many journalists. In September last year, China refused to the press credentials of at least five journalists working for US news media in China, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China voiced concern that more foreign journalists might face the “constant threat of expulsion.”
Here is Hua’s exchange with the Bloomberg reporter, according to the Chinese-language MOFA transcript:
Hua: As I have said in recent days, the US expelled 60 Chinese journalists in March of last year, and in May last year it reduced the visa validity of all Chinese media reporters in the US, without exceptions, to less than three months. Chinese journalists in the US now have to reapply for visas every three months, and often they must start the next round of applications as soon as their extensions are approved. This leaves the lives and work of Chinese journalists in the US in great uncertainty. A reporter from Xinhua News Agency submitted an application in November last year that was never approved, and they were forced to stop working in February this year, and had to return to China on May 1. A number of other journalists are waiting for approval from the US side. As a Bloomberg reporter you should understand that even under the circumstances of epidemic prevention and control, the Chinese side has still done its best to facilitate the work of foreign journalists in China, including American journalists.
Reporter: I may have misunderstood. Can you tell us more about the 90-day visa validity for US journalists in China? Because I have colleagues whose visas are valid for only 90 days. I want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you.
Hua: You are saying that you have colleagues in China whose resident press cards are valid for three months, right? The validity of your press card should be one year. The resident press cards of more than 95 percent of foreign journalists have validity for one year.
Reporter: Yes, but I’m actually going to the immigration hall tomorrow to get a three-month visa extension.
Hua: But you are sitting here very freely, which means that your work is not affected.