Articles about "China"

BBC website blocked throughout China


The BBC’s website has been subjected to “deliberate censorship” across China in the wake of its coverage of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, the network reports.

Weeks ago, the BBC reported that Instagram appeared to be blocked in China, and phrases like “Occupy Central” and “Hong Kong students” were hidden on Twitter searches.

The BBC notes that it has been the subject of “intermittent blackouts” in China while reporting on the country.

Also on Wednesday, Reuters reported that a Chinese official in Hong Kong told foreign journalists to report on the ongoing Umbrella Revolutions demonstrations “objectively”.

Related: Kristen Hare’s Twitter list of journalists covering the Umbrella Revolution

The BBC’s website was most recently blocked in April 2012, during the network’s coverage of activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape, according to the BBC.

China has given other news organizations the same treatment in the past. Late last year, the government blocked websites for both The Wall Street Journal and Reuters; they were unblocked in early 2014. Read more

Chinese police officers, paramilitary policemen and plainclothes security personnel prepare to clear Tiananmen Square ahead of an official ceremony in Beijing, China, on May 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

On eve of Tiananmen anniversary, early optimism pushed aside by press, speech crackdown

Chinese police officers, paramilitary policemen and plainclothes security personnel prepare to clear Tiananmen Square ahead of an official ceremony in Beijing, China, on May 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Two years ago in China, during the run-up to the Communist Party’s ritual changing of the guard, there was a heady mood of expectation that the country’s new top leaders might revive long-stalled political reform and maybe, just maybe, reopen the history books on one topic considered taboo: the June 4, 1989 massacre of hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy students in the streets around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The reasons for the early optimism were sound enough.

Xi Jinping, the incoming president, and Li Keqiang, who would become prime minister, were new generation leaders. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary hero, was widely believed to have opposed the Tiananmen crackdown. Li Keqiang was a student leader at Peking University during the 1989 protests, and he is known to have kept up ties to some of the old student activists. And besides, the events known as the “6/4 incident” were already more than two decades in the rearview mirror, and China had grown rich and powerful under the Communist Party’s continued tutelage.

Now, on the 25th anniversary of that brutal crackdown, those early hopes have given way to a harsher reality. The government under Xi and Li is cracking down on any Tiananmen Square commemorations with an intensity unseen in recent years — and journalists and bloggers have been especially targeted.

This year, even people holding small private commemorations away from public view have been rounded up and jailed. That was what happened to Beijing Film Academy Professor Hao Jian and others after Hao hosted a small group at his home in early May to discuss, in privacy, the 1989 crackdown.  The group had held a similar private event five years earlier for the 20th anniversary and suffered no consequences for it.

The arrest of Hao and several others was detailed in a moving New York Times op-ed by the novelist and blogger Murong Xuecun, who in the essay pledged to return to China from Australia to be arrested too, as his “contribution to resisting government efforts to erase the nation’s memory.”

The same thing happened to the performance artist Chen Guang — formerly one of the martial law soldiers sent to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to suppress the student movement. Last April, Chen invited a dozen friends to an empty building outside of Beijing to watch a set piece that included him wearing a mask over his mouth, and a wall whitewashed of dates like “1989.”  He was arrested May 7.

“The seminar in Beijing was in Hao Jian’s own flat,” said Louisa Lim, an NPR correspondent who was based in Beijing and Shanghai, and is the author of the new book “The People’s Republic of Amnesia; Tiananmen Revisited,” about the Communist Party’s efforts to erase the memory of Tiananmen Square. In an interview, she said Cheng Guang’s performance art, like Hao’s gathering, “was in a private space.”

“The crackdown is more intense,” Lim said in an interview. “This year it started very early.  There are a lot more measures being taken.”

At least 50 people have been detained in the weeks leading up to the anniversary, according to a recent roundup of arrests compiled by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Those arrested include blogger Liu Wei, who was picked up May 17 in Beijing, forcibly sent back to his home of Chongqing and charged with “creating a disturbance” for a seemingly innocuous act: posing for photos with fingers in a “V” sign and a stiff-armed salute at Tiananmen Square.

Human rights lawyers, academics and journalists have all been detained, including veteran reporter Gao Yu, 70, who was one of the first people arrested at the start of the 1989 crackdown. And in another ominous development for foreign reporters working in China, the Japanese financial newspaper Nihon Keizai reported that its Chinese news assistant in Chongqing was taken away from her home and detained on May 13.

The arrests have been accompanied by the requisite Internet clampdown, as the authorities try to block out searches and postings related to the anniversary. Searches for terms like “Tiananmen Square massacre” and “6/4 incident” have routinely been blocked in China. But this year the number of banned phrases has expanded, and now includes variations of “25,” plus words “square,” “mourn” and the phrase “when spring becomes summer.”

And on May 27, China’s state media reported of a new month-long clampdown on the widely popular mobile messaging application WeChat — which allows users to send text and voice messages to small closed circles and which has become an alternative news source as the government has increasingly targeted Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

But the massive effort at online suppression has been hard-pressed to keep up with China’s growing army of Netizens — now some 600 million strong — and their clever ways of bypassing the censorship with word-plays, double-entendres and phrases with hidden meanings. And that leads to the larger question: can China’s Communist rulers successfully suppress all memory and mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre in the rapid-fire information age of social media?

“The answer is, yes, they have been successful — but they can’t stop it all,” said Dan Southerland, who was the Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post from 1985-1990 and is now the executive editor of Radio Free Asia based in Washington.

Louisa Lim agreed. “The crackdown is clearly much worse than in any previous year,” she said.  “But there is a lot more happening on social media.”  She added, “The question is if they see social media slipping beyond their grip.”

Lim added that, like the title of her book makes clear, “The government has been remarkably successful at enforcing amnesia.” But she added, “It’s something the people have colluded in, because the cost of remembering is too high.”

The current Tiananmen-related crackdown is the clearest sign yet, if any more were needed, that China’s new leadership is making political stability and control its top priority.  And that marks a near-complete reversal from just two years ago, when many foreign journalists, including myself — as the Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post — were reporting on the cautiously optimistic mood of many Chinese that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang might begin to usher in a tiny bit more openness.

Li Datong, a veteran journalist who was fired as editor of a China Youth Daily supplement for daring to push against official censorship, told me in a 2012 meeting just before the new leaders took over that he had high expectations.  “I feel both Xi and Li realize there’s no way to solve the problems if they don’t start reforms,” he told me. The two men, he said, were China’s “Third Generation” leaders. “They represent the 1980s, when China reopened its doors to the world. They lived through the enlightenment of the 1980s.”

“I hope they bring us some surprises,” he said.

That view was widespread. Yang Baikui, who knew Li at Peking University and who later spent 11 months in jail and was expelled from the Communist Party for his part in the 1989 student protests, met me over coffee in the hutongs near the Forbidden City. He told me he was confident that the new leaders would not only revive political reforms, but would also reopen the long-closed book on the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“I feel it will happen,” Yang said then. “I’m very confident in Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. I believe the problem of June 4 will start to be reviewed in one or two years.”

That optimism soon came to naught. With Xi in full control, China has launched a widespread clampdown on the Internet, which had emerged in recent years as a free-wheeling public speech platform.

Southerland, the former Post correspondent, said the optimism before Xi and Li’s elevation was similar to the high hopes for reforms when Hu Jintao took power in late 2002 — hopes that were dashed by 2004. “I think we sometimes focus too much on individual leaders and not enough on the system that limits what they can do even if they want to make major changes,” Southerland said.

Lim agreed. “There was, I don’t know if you’d call it an expectation, but perhaps kind of groundless optimism,” she said. “I think Xi Jinping turned out to be a different kind of leader than people hoped for — especially those people who were looking for a reevaluation of Tiananmen Square.”

Lim said she took extreme measures to write her book on the Tiananmen Square massacre while still working in Beijing as an NPR correspondent, including writing on a brand new “clean” laptop that she locked in a safe at night.

“I was sweating the whole time I was there,” she said. “I was concerned I would be detained or arrested. It made me realize what a taboo Tiananmen still is.”

Keith Richburg is finishing a semester as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He was The Washington Post’s China correspondent from late 2009 until 2013, and previously was the Post’s bureau chief in Paris, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Nairobi and Manila as well as New York City. He has won numerous awards, including two George Polk Awards, and he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of “Out Of America; A Black Man Confronts Africa,” and is now working on his next book idea. Read more


As China’s control grows, Hong Kong media freedoms recede

Journalists and their supporters gather outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sunday, March 2, 2014, to show support for press freedoms and the former editor of Ming Pao newspaper, Lau Chun-to, who was assaulted and injured on Feb. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

They got him as he stepped out of his car one morning in February. Wielding a meat-cleaver, Lau Chun-to’s assailant hacked at his back and legs, then sped away on a motorbike with an accomplice.

The attack on Lau, the former chief editor of the respected local Hong Kong paper Ming Pao, comes on the heels of a steady increase in assaults on the press. Last June, Next Media – the largest media group in Hong Kong – came under a string of attacks. A car crashed into the front gates of its chairman’s residence. A machete and an axe were left in the driveway. Shortly after, a journalist for a tabloid owned by Next Media was beaten up. Just over a week later, three men set fire to 26,000 copies of Apple Daily – a populist newspaper known for its critical reporting on China.

These attacks have led many to ask: are Hong Kong’s press freedoms under siege?

The attacks, though undoubtedly grave and serious, are only a piece of a larger picture. These violent attacks have caused concern about the changing political and commercial environment surrounding Hong Kong’s media.

“I don’t think the attacks are the best indicator of Hong Kong’s media freedom,” said Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The attacks are bad, and I don’t want to undercut them. But the bigger issue is the way Hong Kong media ownership is deciding to cooperate with the Chinese government at the expense of media independence.”

While threats to press freedom are a global concern – forced resignations of journalists in Turkey, abductions in Syria, killings in Egypt, detentions in China, crackdowns in Russia – in Hong Kong, the battle takes a different form: political and commercial pressures.

Politically, more than half of the media owners in Hong Kong have been appointed to national political bodies in China – the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, according to a 2007 report by the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The cozy ties between Hong Kong and China mean that often editorial decisions can be clouded by political and business concerns. “In Hong Kong, media organizations are mostly owned by tycoons with business interests in China,” Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong legislator, told the Committee to Protect Journalists. “They don’t want to lose advertising revenue from Chinese companies and they don’t want to anger the central government.”

The problem of evaporating profits in Hong Kong’s media industry, too, complicates editorial decisions and business relations. Like newspapers in many countries worldwide, the print industry’s market share and revenues have steadily dwindled.

“Twenty years ago, Ming Pao made HK$200 million annually. Now we’re at 1 percent of that – about two to three million,” said Ernest Chi, deputy editor-in-chief of Ming Pao. “The South China Morning Post used to make HK$1 billion annually. Oriental Daily used to make HK$1 billion annually. They make nothing close to that now.”

Chi is a veteran in the Hong Kong press. Starting as a financial journalist in 1994, he has seen the development of Hong Kong’s media landscape over the years, both before and after the end of British rule in Hong Kong in 1997. And the outlook, he admits, is not rosy.

With the rise of the Internet, the popularity of smartphone apps, free metro dailies and 24-hour news channels, newspapers are being squeezed commercially as never before, Chi explained.

“Newspapers are making less money, and they are afraid of adverts being pulled. When you have a thin bottom line, one advertising client can have a significant influence,” he said. “Would you run an exclusive, explosive exposé and piss off a big client?”

Chi now heads up the investigative reporting team at Ming Pao, and in recent years he has led a series of investigations that exposed scandals involving top politicians.

Yet with an ever-thinning bottom line, the harsh realities of commercial pressures have begun to chip away at editorial independence, Chi explained. “Increasingly, investments are made in newspapers with an eye on political influence. Profits are now insignificant, so they want something else in return – a political return on investment.”

Commenting on the investors, Chi added, “The media is only a small part of their empire, but they use it as a leverage, to haggle and to bargain. Investors ask themselves, ‘What do I want this thing for? Give me political influence.’”

Business concerns aside, Chi also noted that Beijing’s increasing influence over Hong Kong is an undeniable fact.

“It’s not that Britain was more civilized,” Chi was careful to note. “But they do have a history of democracy,” and Hong Kong inherited democratic values from its colonial days: freedom of speech, the separation of powers, the sanctity of the law. Things have since changed.

“Hong Kong returned to her fatherland, China, in 1997 – and I think you can objectively say that China is still, to a certain extent, totalitarian,” Chi said.

At the same time, the irony is that Hong Kong never was a democracy. As a British colony, Hong Kong had a tremendous number of flaws, said Dietz. “It’s trying to return to something that never really existed.”

Perhaps that is why the battle for press freedom will be such a difficult one. “Press freedom is very conceptual,” Chi said. “It’s not very concrete. It’s vague. We can slowly lose it, and not even know.”

What is obvious, however, is that Hong Kong is being absorbed into China politically, economically and socially, Dietz said. “And what is most worrying is the city’s inability to maintain independent voices critical of the local and Chinese government.”

The attack on Lau, who survived the attack and is on a long road to recovery, has galvanized the Hong Kong public. Lau had been removed from his position as editor-in-chief in January, raising suspicions that his replacement was another attempt by China to stifle Hong Kong’s independent media. Just days before the attack, some 6,000 protesters took to the streets to demand that Hong Kong’s leader do more to safeguard media freedoms.

Some suspect that the attack was meant to silence Lau. Ming Pao had recently collaborated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which in January published an exposé on the offshore tax holdings of various Chinese leaders. Earlier, Ming Pao had also investigated the suspicious death of the Chinese dissident Li Wangyang. Many suspected a murder, but Chinese authorities ruled it a suicide.

In a statement issued on March 12, Lau said he was “positive that the assault is related to my job in the newspaper.”

Days after the attack, thousands of demonstrators were out in force again, marching to condemn the recent violence and to make an impassioned call for press freedom. “They Can’t Kill Us All,” read a giant banner carried by the demonstrators. Lawmakers have also voted unanimously to condemn the attack on Lau. The police have made a series of arrests connected with the attack, and two men have been charged – though the alleged mastermind remains at large.

Whether it is political or commercial pressures, a mix of both, or just outright violence, Chi and Dietz agree that the road ahead for Hong Kong’s media will be fraught with struggles. Both are hoping the public will demand a free and open press. But whether that resolve will be enough to reverse or slow the trend of diminishing press freedoms is an open question.

“There’s an uphill battle, frankly,” Dietz said.

Mary Hui is from Hong Kong and a freshman at Princeton University. She is an aspiring foreign correspondent and previously interned at the Hong Kong office of the International New York Times and Time Out Hong Kong. Reach her at @maryhui.

Related: Reporting on ‘Offshore Leaks China’ took six months and news partners from around the world | Covering China: for foreign and domestic press, self-censorship’s the threat | Another Bloomberg News journalist resigns over company’s handling of China story Read more

Pedestrians walk past the main entrance to the Washington Post , Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington Post praises rival NYT for China story

The Washington Post

The Washington Post took the unusual step of praising its competitor, The New York Times, for the latter’s story on the wealthy relatives of one of China’s most prominent political figures.

The praise came in an piece by the Editorial Board posted Friday afternoon. The Times’ story, the editorial stated, “struck a welcome blow against an aggressive effort by Chinese authorities to censor such information not just from domestic media but also from the U.S. press.” Read more

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Another Bloomberg News journalist resigns over company’s handling of China story

Jim Romenesko | The New York Times | NPR

A Bloomberg News editor resigned from the company Monday citing the mishandling of an investigative story from China, Jim Romenesko reports.

Ben Richardson, an Asia editor at large, told Romenesko by email that he also left because of what he termed Bloomberg’s misleading statements to the global press that disparaged the journalists who had worked on the story, an investigation into the financial ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and top officials:

Throughout the process, the threat of legal action has hung over our heads if we talked — and still does. That has meant that senior management have had an open field to spin their own version of events.

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White House ‘very disappointed’ NYT reporter was forced to leave China

The Weekly Standard

In a statement Thursday, the White House said it was “very disappointed that New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy was forced to leave China today because of processing delays for his press credentials.” Ramzy is a China correspondent for the Times. The Chinese government forced him to leave the country this week, saying he had “violated Chinese regulations last year by continuing to travel to and from the country using the journalist visa he was issued before he left his previous employer, Time magazine,” Andrew Jacobs reported in the Times.


The White House’s statement continues: Read more

China Citizens Movement Trial

Covering China: for foreign and domestic press, self-censorship’s the threat

A plainclothes policeman, center, tries to block a foreign journalist filming while police detain the supporters of Xu Zhiyong near the No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing Wednesday. Xu, a legal scholar and founder of the New Citizens movement, is on trial facing a charge organzing a crowd to disrupt public order. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

It’s not easy being a journalist in China these days.

Chinese reporters are facing new government restrictions, including forced training in Marxism and a new written “ideology” exam. Some, pushing the investigative envelope, have been detained, demoted and fired. Bloggers have been arrested under a new law that forbids rumor-mongering.

Meanwhile, foreign journalists have had visa renewals held up by the government, with the threat of expulsion. The standoff grew so contentious that Vice President Joe Biden had to make a personal appeal to China’s president before last-minute visas were issued earlier this month.

The troubles have prompted soul-searching among journalists about their cumulative effect. The key question for many is whether government intimidation will lead to self-censorship. Read more


The New York Times hires Michael Forsythe

The New York Times

Former Bloomberg News reporter Michael Forsythe now works for The New York Times, according to a Times story on Sunday by Christine Haughney.

Forsythe, based in Hong Kong, left Bloomberg News in November after Bloomberg held an investigative story “because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China,” Haughney wrote.

After Bloomberg News published an article in June 2012 on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, at that time the incoming Communist Party chief, sales of Bloomberg terminals in China slowed, as officials ordered state enterprises not to subscribe. Officials also blocked Bloomberg’s website on Chinese servers, and the company has been unable to get residency visas for new journalists.

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China blocks and related news coverage of prime minister’s massive wealth

New York Times | Washington Post
The Chinese government blocked all access to The New York Times website from computers in the country Friday after the Times reported on the prime minister’s family accumulating massive wealth.

The Times reported that Wen Jiabao’s relatives have assets worth at least $2.7 billion, much of it hidden from public knowledge:

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.

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