Track, Trace, Expel: China is using coronavirus to restrict & control foreign journalists, says report

As per the FCCC, the working conditions for foreign journalists in China deteriorated in 2020 with Beijing expelling 18 foreign journalists.

2020 will always be remembered as the lost year. The year will also be known for how the perception of China was changed worldwide but what many of us don’t know is that China will also be remembered for how the communist-led country utilised 2020 as a year to harass, intimidate and expel foreign journalists. As per the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), the working conditions for foreign journalists in China deteriorated last year with Beijing expelling 18 foreign journalists.

According to a report titled “Track, Trace, Expel: Reporting on China Amid a Pandemic”, it has been reported that China is using coronavirus as just another way to restrict and control foreign journalists. The press group, FCCC, has alleged that China has introduced extra surveillance and restrictions in the country, citing coronavirus as the reason behind tightened security. These surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus were actually used as methods to intimidate and harass journalists.

For the third consecutive year, not even a single foreign journalist working in China has said that the working conditions in the country have improved, the report revealed. The report also suggested that not only journalists and correspondents were intimidated, but their movements were also restricted. Many times, reporters were “forced to abandon reporting trips after being told to leave or be quarantined on the spot”.

Around 18 foreign journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post were expelled in China in 2020. This is the largest number of journalists expelled by Chinese authorities since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre that happened in 1989. Also, with worsening foreign relations with other countries especially the US, Beijing has been expelling foreign journalists as its retaliatory move.

2020: A bad year for foreign journalists

It was in March 2020, when China announced that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The announcement made by China’s Foreign Ministry last year was a retaliation move by the Chinese authorities in regards to the new visa limit imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese state-owned media operating in the United States.

The governments of the two preeminent economic powers used journalists as just diplomatic pawns. It’s important for the governments of the United States and China to quickly resolve this dispute and allow journalists to do the important work of informing the public.

Why is China expelling journalists?

Apart from the retaliatory move, another major reason behind China restricting foreign journalists, especially journalists coming from the US media outlets is that China’s expulsion of US journalists may enhance its ability to block investigative reporting into human rights abuses in Xinjiang or its earlier mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.  

Experts even believe that the moves taken by the US administration to restrict Chinese media operations gave China the perfect cover to suppress the reporting for which China has always received criticism. Under the banner of taking ‘reciprocal’ measures, China has very smartly tried to subdue the freedom of voice in the country.

Author: Mahima Joshi

Mahima Joshi is a writer at The Wonk. She is a postgraduate in Journalism, who is just curious about everything that is happening around. She is an enthusiastic reader especially concerning gender dynamics in mythological stories.

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