BEIJING — With dozens of American journalists facing expulsion from China, Vice President Biden forcefully complained to Chinese authorities Thursday about the government’s crackdown on Western media organizations.
Biden also met privately with a group of foreign journalists who are being threatened with expulsion, and reporters were told that he brought up the issue at all three of his meetings with China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping.
Journalists from the New York Times, Bloomberg News and other organizations are facing the loss of their Chinese visas on Dec. 31, at which point they and their families would be forced to leave the country.
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,” the family members of elite government figures, are a particular sore point.
The New York 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 the president’s family.
Government officials have complained to the Times about these articles, saying the reports have been “unfair and disrespectful” to China, Jill Abramson, the Times’ executive editor, said in an interview.
Abramson defended the articles, calling them “true and accurate and fair and in the larger public interest of readers around the world.” She said the Times is “prepared to cover China in every way we can,” even if its non-Chinese journalists are expelled.
She noted, however, that the newspaper is “eager to work with Chinese officials to have our visas renewed as we have in past years.”
The Times reported last month that Bloomberg editors killed two stories about Wang Jianlin, China’s wealthiest man, and his ties to party leaders.
The newspaper said Bloomberg editors spiked the stories because they feared jeopardizing the company’s business interests in China and out of concern that its journalists would be expelled, allegations that Bloomberg officials denied. Bloomberg had no comment on Thursday.
Barboza, who is based in China, is among nine Times journalists who have not received visas to remain in China. At least 14 at Bloomberg are similarly affected, according to a journalist briefed on the Biden meeting.
In addition to the Times and Bloomberg, other media organizations represented at the meeting with Biden included the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Reuters, as well as the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
The Washington Post, which did not have a representative at the meeting, has two correspondents in China; neither has received a visa renewal, said Douglas Jehl, The Post’s foreign editor.
But Jehl added: “I would not say that’s unusual. As I understand it, the Chinese government’s process for renewing journalist visas does not tend to begin until November, so uncertainty at this stage is not unfamiliar. We expect that the Chinese authorities will act very soon to renew our correspondents’ visas, and have been given no reason to think otherwise.”
Biden reportedly registered his concerns directly with Xi during a wide-ranging bilateral meeting a day earlier. And in a speech to U.S. business executives Thursday morning in Beijing, he publicly denounced the practice of intimidating journalists.
The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Reuters and the Financial Times have Chinese Web sites or services that have been blocked at times over the years. London-based Reuters was believed to have been included in the meeting with Biden because American reporter Paul Mooney was refused a visa after waiting eight months to begin a new assignment for the agency in China.
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 Xi, who assumed the presidency in March. Entire news organizations, rather than individual reporters, are facing threats that they will be kicked out of the country, the journalists said.
Many Western journalists in China remain hopeful that the Chinese government is merely delaying the granting of visas, a tactic it has often used in recent years.
Because of heavy Chinese government restrictions on foreign journalists, reporters are given visas valid for only a calendar year and must reapply for new visas and press cards at the end of each year.
Roughly half of the New York Times journalists who applied for their press cards this fall were able to obtain them, but the other half — who tried to get press cards after the Times ran a sensitive article on Nov. 13 — were not able to.
That article, by Barboza, investigated ties between JPMorgan Chase and the daughter of China’s former prime minister, Wen Jiabao.
When one New York Times journalist tried to pick up a new press card after Barboza’s article was published, the reporter was told by a government bureaucrat that the card was not ready even though it was in full view on the official’s desk, according to journalists at the Times.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Nolan Barkhouse, said officials have repeatedly raised their concerns with their Chinese counterparts about the visa delays, restrictions on journalists’ access to some locations and individuals, China’s blocking of Web sites and reports of hacking of Western media organizations.
Paul Farhi in Washington and Simon Denyer in Beijing contributed to this report.