China grants renewed press cards to several Western journalists facing expulsion

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images - Chinese para-military police march beneath a portrait of late leader Mao Zedong beside Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Dec. 13, 2013. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden recently criticiized China’s tightening of controls on foreign journalists, days after British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly aired similar concerns.

BEIJING — Several Western journalists facing expulsion from China were given renewed press cards Thursday by the Chinese government, allowing them to apply for visas to remain in the country.

The move appears to end a weeks-long standoff between the government and journalists that included a personal appeal by Vice President Biden to China’s president this month.

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Journalists from the New York Times, Bloomberg News and other organizations were facing the loss of their Chinese visas around the end of December, at which point they and their families would be forced to leave the country.

While most reporters at the Times and Bloomberg still do not have visas, receiving their press credentials removes a main impediment to their applications.

All members of Bloomberg’s foreign staff in China but only some at the Times received press cards Thursday, members of both organizations said. “We have received all of our China press cards and continue to operate as usual,” Bloomberg spokeswoman Belina Tan said.

A handful of Times journalists have not received press cards and thus continue to face the prospect of being forced to leave, according to journalists in Beijing working on their behalf.

Even those who have press cards are not considering themselves safe from expulsion until visas are physically stamped into their passport, several journalists said.

“We are in contact with Chinese officials and remain hopeful that our resident journalists in the country will be issued visas that will allow them to continue to work there,” said Eileen M. Murphy, spokeswoman for the Times.

The Washington Post, which has two correspondents in China, has received a visa for one. The other received his press card Thursday and was able to apply for a visa.

China has long denied or held up visas to retaliate for coverage critical of Communist Party officials, but U.S. reporters say the practice has grown more intense under President Xi Jinping, who took office in March. This year, entire news organizations, rather than individual reporters, faced threats of expulsion, the journalists said.

The tensions appear to stem primarily from Chinese displeasure with articles about corruption among top Communist Party members and government officials. Reports about the massive wealth acquired by “princelings” — relatives of elite government figures — are a particular sore point.

The Times’ David Barboza won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his reporting on the topic; Bloomberg won a George Polk Award in February for a series about it, including one article that focused on the riches of Xi.

Peter Ford of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement, “We hope that this development means that the New York Times reporters still awaiting their press cards will be given them soon, and that all the reporters whose visa procedure is still underway will indeed be issued with 2014 residence visas.”

 
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