China forces New York Times reporter to leave country

China forced a New York Times reporter to leave the country Thursday, the latest in a series of government actions targeting journalists.

Austin Ramzy, who previously worked for six years in China for Time magazine, has not been given a journalist visa since he moved to the newspaper last year.With his temporary visa expiring, he boarded a flight to Taipei, Taiwan, on Thursday afternoon.

Ramzy’s forced departure will result in the first full-time Times correspondent in memory being stationed on Taiwan, an island China considers a rebellious province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Journalists with the Times and Bloomberg News have encountered visa problems since those organizations published articles about wealth and corruption among Communist Party leaders. The huge wealth acquired by “princelings” — relatives of elite government figures — is considered a particularly sensitive issue by the government.

Last month, as visas were due to expire for journalists at the Times, Bloomberg News and other media organizations, the government refused to process their applications until the last moment. The government relented after a personal appeal by Vice President Biden to China’s president.

Ramzy will continue to apply for a visa while reporting in Taiwan, Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration is “deeply concerned” about the restrictions journalists face in China.

“These restrictions and treatment are not consistent with freedom of the press — and stand in stark contrast with U.S. treatment of Chinese and other foreign journalists,” Carney said in a statement.

At a news conference Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said Ramzy was not being expelled or forced to leave. He characterized the departure as bureaucratic in nature and accused Ramzy of violating Chinese regulations because he had continued to travel to China on his unexpired Time magazine visa while waiting for a new one.

The Times said the government had not canceled Ramzy’s old visa or raised its use as an issue until recently.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement condemning Qin’s accusations. “Suggestions by Chinese officials that Mr. Ramzy did not correctly comply with Chinese visa regulations are disingenuous; the regulations are unclear and have not been applied to other journalists in similar situations to that of Ramzy,” the organization said. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the authorities are punishing the New York Times for articles it published concerning [former] Premier Wen Jiabao and his family. Such behavior falls well short of international standards.”

The Times and Bloomberg News have not been able to obtain visas for journalists hired for positions in China during the past two years. Both companies have only been able to renew visas for employees already in China.

The bureau chief for the Times, Philip Pan, has not been given a journalist visa for China despite trying for almost two years. Last year, reporter Chris Buckley was expelled after leaving Reuters to work for the Times.

Asked about the visa delays Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Qin said, “The issuance of visas and residency permits is a matter that only China as a sovereign nation can determine.”

Thursday morning, Ramzy wrote on Twitter: “Heading out shortly and wanted to say thanks for all the kind thoughts. Sad to be leaving Beijing. Hope I can return soon.”

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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