Ex-Chinese gov't spokesman seeks friendly approach to foreign media

Kinling Lo, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 05 2021 01:01 PM

While foreign journalists working in China have expressed concerns about the country’s increasingly difficult reporting environment, a former Chinese government spokesman has called for a more friendly approach to international news media.

“Foreign media like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, we have to have more interactions with them. We cannot cut them off or be unwelcoming to them because they have criticised us before.

“ We need to have exchanges when we need to,” said Zhao Qizheng, former director of the Chinese State Council’s news office, according to an article published on Monday by People’s Daily.

Zhao was advising Hainan’s propaganda department on how to promote the government’s plan to turn the southern island province into a globally influential free-trade port, according to the article, which did not specify when he made the comments.

“With more communication, we can be friends, and after becoming friends we can point out to them which reporting they did was not accurate, and provide more explanation on the actual situation. The reporting conducted by major international news outlets is very important. [We] have to treat it seriously,” he said.

In June Chinese President Xi Jinping told senior Communist Party officials that the country needed to “expand its circle of friends” by revamping its image into a “credible, lovable and respectable China”.

However, in a statement released last week, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said it was “disappointed and dismayed at the growing hostility against foreign media in China” after multiple journalists were harassed while reporting on the floods in Henan province.

They included representatives of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the Los Angeles Times.

The harassment followed a call on Chinese social media by Henan’s Communist Youth League for its followers to report the whereabouts of BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant, who became the target of online abuse for his reporting outside a subway station which was inundated during the floods, killing 14.

The FCCC said the growing hostility towards foreign journalists was underpinned by “rising Chinese nationalism, sometimes directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities”.

It called on the government to “uphold its promise to allow foreign journalists unfettered access to report in China’s regions and to maintain its responsibility to protect people’s safety”.

When foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to the controversy, he said: “there is always a reason for love, and also for hate.”

China’s relations with foreign media have been deteriorating as the reporting environment has tightened and relations with the US and Western democracies have plunged.

According to the FCCC, at least 17 foreign journalists were expelled – through the cancellation of their press credentials – by the Chinese government in the first half of 2020, including representatives of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Foreign media outlets have aksi been unable to fill positions in China, with journalist visa approvals on hold because of the pandemic, according to the foreign ministry. It is also illegal for Chinese nationals to work as correspondents for overseas media.

The delays followed restrictions introduced last year by the US on Chinese journalists working in the United States. In addition to new visa regulations, the US also required several mainland Chinese media outlets – including state news agency Xinhua – to register as foreign government agents.

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