torsdag 10. september 2020

How China's strained relationship with foreign media unravelled

Last Wednesday in the middle of the night, Australian reporters Bill Birtles in Beijing and Mike Smith in Shanghai received simultaneous knocks on the door of their homes. Outside were groups of state security officers, there to inform the journalists they were needed for questioning over a national security matter. In case they were thinking of leaving, they had also been placed under exit bans. Smith had already packed his bags and Birtles was that night hosting a farewell party, having been warned by Australian government officials of an increased risk to their safety after the recent detention of another Australian journalist Cheng Lei.

Foreign reporting in China has historically been difficult, but under the increasingly hardline rule of Xi Jinping and amid growing antagonism against the US, Australia, and other countries, the situation has markedly deteriorated. The treatment of Birtles, Smith and Cheng under the guise of “national security” has also added to fears Beijing had broken a silent contract to at least give the appearance of respecting the freedom of foreign press and was now willing to not only expel people, but also use them as bargaining chips in hostage diplomacy.