A Political Virus: Media reporters deported as US-China tensions escalate

April 26, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

As part of the ongoing diplomatic feud between the US and China, Beijing announced the expulsion of 13 journalists from US media groups operating in China (The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal).

What does this mean?

The Chinese government has taken its most severe action in removing Western correspondents from China since 1949. The exiled reporters were required to hand in their press passes within 10 days, effectively prohibiting them from any further work in the region. Staff from five other media outlets, including Time, are also now required to report personal information to Chinese authorities. 

Importantly, this is not the first time that China has shown its distaste for the work of US media sources. As recently as February 2020, the Chinese authorities dismissed three journalists for a headline stating that “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”. 

As part of what has been termed diplomatic tit-for-tat, the Trump Administration then limited the number of Chinese citizens in five state-run media operations in the US. Xi Jinping’s government has since argued that their recent retaliatory move is therefore a justified form of self-defence.

What's the big picture effect?

Long gone is the time that analysts believed that US-China trade relations were undergoing significant improvements. Rather than continuing “phase one” negotiations in a bid to bring an end to the infamous trade war which started in 2018 (to see our articles on that, click here and here, two of the world’s greatest economic powers have resorted to playing a blame game. Individual reporters have become pawns in an international spat which bears resemblance to the media polarity of the Cold War. 

Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to heightened feelings of distrust. Accusations regarding the spread of misinformation represent a key part of the tensions. Indeed, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN has since issued a statement directly referencing the importance of “[protecting] the work of journalists” and “freedom of information laws”.

Alarmingly, that the expelled journalists are equally banned from working in Hong Kong or Macau raises important questions about the stability of “one country, two systems” and the associated legal freedoms. This is a new distinction which legal critics have argued is a violation of Basic Law (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution), undermining the region’s autonomous rights. 

Free speech is under a continued assault in China and the US and with this latest move China is retracting from external scrutiny. The irony is that global unity is needed now more than ever, and the free flow of information is a necessary, but neglected conduit.

Report written by Katrina Hughes

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