China renews Western journalists’ visas after months-long standoff

A Chinese security official looks back at rows of journalists covering a plenary session of the National People's Congress in Beijing in March 2013. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Several Western journalists who faced expulsion from China were issued renewed visas by the Chinese government Thursday, ending a months-long standoff.

The country is still on track to force at least one New York Times reporter to leave for the second year in a row, however.

Austin Ramzy, a journalist who previously worked for Time magazine, has not been given press accreditation or a permanent visa since he joined the Times, according to journalists in Beijing.

When his journalist visa expired at the end of December, he was given a temporary visa at the last minute, which does not allow him to report from within China. Once the temporary visa expires at the end of January, he will be forced to leave, after reporting for more than six years from China.

All foreign journalists in China and their families are given visas that expire in December each year, a special restriction imposed by the government.

Last month, as visas were due to expire for journalists at the New York Times, Bloomberg News and other organizations, the government refused until the last moment to accept their applications for visa renewal.

The government’s last-minute decision to issue them press credentials and accept visa applications came after a personal appeal by Vice President Biden to China’s president.

By Thursday, most reporters at the Times had received visas, and many Bloomberg reporters have received their visas, as well, according to several journalists in Beijing who were not authorized to give their names.

The Washington Post, which has two correspondents in China, received a visa for one journalist in December and for the second Thursday.

Visa problems at Bloomberg and the Times occurred after the two organizations published articles about corruption among top Communist Party leaders. The massive wealth acquired by “princelings” — relatives of elite government figures — is considered a sensitive issue by the government.

Bloomberg declined to comment on the issue Thursday.

While journalists who are already in China have been able to renew their visas, neither the Times nor Bloomberg has been able to obtain visas for journalists newly hired for positions in China, journalists say.

The Times’ bureau chief, Philip Pan, has not been given a journalist visa for China after almost two years of trying. And last year, reporter Chris Buckley was forced out of the country after he left Reuters to work for the Times.

Access in China to the Web sites of Bloomberg and the Times has also been blocked by censors since 2012, when the controversial articles were published. In addition, new Chinese-language Web sites for the Times have been blocked, along with the Chinese Web site of the BBC, which has long been blocked.

But the Chinese-language Web sites of some foreign news services that have been sporadically blocked in the past, including those of Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, do not appear to be censored.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.



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