Journalists in danger of extinction in China

Australia lacks journalists in China for the first time in half a century after the recent hasty departure of the last two. Dozens of foreign journalists in China and Chinese abroad have been expelled in the last year, collateral damage in the struggles of governments that ignore that elementary courtesy of not shooting the pianist. The account is unlikely to end up with the Australians.

Bill Birtles and Mike Smith they concluded in early September that they were no longer safe in China. Bilateral relations were deteriorating relentlessly and months ago it had already been detained Cheng Lei, Australian presenter of a Chinese public channel, for the liturgical and gaseous charge of attempt against national security.

Smith says that he had been alerted for the first time in late August by his newspaper, after it was contacted by his embassy, ​​but that he was not overly concerned by the lack of precedents of foreign journalists detained in China. “Although I was concerned about Cheng’s situation, I believed that we were in different situations because she worked for a Chinese national media and I for a foreign one. In the following days I received another direct alert from my embassy to leave China,” he continues. She bought the ticket but the police showed up at her home on the eve of the flight to inform her that she was being investigated. The foreign ministries agreed that he could leave only if he accepted a interrogation. “I had nothing interesting to say to them. I never felt that the interview was related to national security, but that it was a process that I had to go through as part of a larger political game related to the tensions between China and Australia,.

Beijing reported that Australian authorities had questioned four Chinese journalists in June and confiscated computers, phones and even electronic toys from their children. Canberra did not deny it and alluded to “possible foreign interference” which it did not specify.

Usual friction

The friction between journalists and police in China they are neither strange nor ferocious. They can ruin a day’s work, take away your equipment, or scare your interpreter. This correspondent has suffered the delete photos and has saved others by hiding the memory card under his underwear, it has been expelled from a hotel at dawn by half a dozen policemen and has received threats about your visa. But during the process, a reassuring certainty floats: the foreign journalist is not hit. It is an appreciable deference because the Chinese colleague can be beaten to death and imprisoned with impunity. The correspondent’s job is arid but not dangerous. It’s not china like Philippines The Mexico, peacetime democracies, where journalists are periodically murdered. After the articles perceived as hostile come the invitations to “have tea“in which they will read the primer to its author. minimum codes of coexistence with foreign journalists whom Beijing sees as necessary evils.

Among them was that of not kicking them out. This year, however, they have already left 19 after their essential press license was canceled or not renewed. Is the biggest output operation since the tanks ran by Tiananmén in 1989. Foreign Correspondents Club in China has denounced the “constant danger of expulsion“and noted that” coercive practices have turned accredited journalists into pawns of diplomatic conflicts“.

This is exemplified by Beijing and Washington. China expelled three Wall Street Journal journalists in February for an opinion piece titled The sick of Asia. The outrage was not surprising because that is how the Japanese alluded to China during the traumatic imperialism that left millions of dead. Trump later designated the Chinese media as “foreign delegations” to reduce their number and 60 journalists packed their bags. And Beijing revoked licenses of famous headers such as The New York Times The The Washington Post.

More cracks

The exchange of blows allows different readings. It is true that there are journalists on one side and propagandists on the other. It is also true that democracies are assumed to have ethical leadership and a duty of exemplarity that squeaks with the expulsion of journalists, propagandists included. Reciprocity between democracies and dictatorships pushes the world towards disturbing places.

He journalists emptied It comes when communication channels are most essential and watertight compartments are most dangerous. “The absence of journalists will not help politicians and the general public in Australia understand what is happening in China. This can lead to more fissures and political tensions,” warns Mike Smith.

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