Veteran US journalist Paul Mooney had his visa application rejected by the Chinese government after waiting nearly eight months to begin his new reporting job for Thomson Reuters in China, according to the New York Times, around the same time that China’s government has begun enforcing stricter visa regulations and cracking down on online media censorship, resulting in escalating tensions between the Chinese government and foreign media outlets.
Mooney said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday told Reuters that it wouldn’t grant him a resident journalist visa but would not give an explanation why. His previous visa, sponsored by the South China Morning Post, had expired last year.
“China has been my career,” Mooney was quoted as saying in the NY Times report. The reporter spent three decades covering news in Asia, the last 18 years of it out of Beijing. “I never thought it was going to end this way. I’m sad and disappointed.”
The websites for Bloomberg News and The New York Times have been blocked in China for more than a year following the publication of investigative articles by both news organizations that detailed the wealth accumulated by relatives of top Chinese leaders. Since then, employees for both Bloomberg and The Times have been awaiting residency visas that would allow them to report from China.
Such tactics appear to have had an impact. On Saturday, The Times detailed a decision late last month by Bloomberg to withhold publication of an investigative report, more than a year in the works, that explored hidden financial ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and the families of senior Chinese leaders. Company employees said the editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, defended the decision by comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus that sought to remain working inside Nazi Germany.
At the end of last year, New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who had lived in China for 15 years, was expelled from the country in a speculated “retaliatory act” for the paper’s investigative report of Wen Jiabao’s family’s extreme wealth.
In May of last year, Al Jazeera English shut down its Beijing bureau after the government revoked the press credentials and refused the visa of its China correspondent, Melissa Chan. While there was no given explanation for her visa rejection, commenters speculated that it was also a retaliation for her “hard-hitting” coverage of Chinese society.
Chan said in the report that the Chinese governments attempts to “bully” foreign media organizations will have an impact on smaller media outlets as well, specifically, outlets coming out of Southeast Asia and Africa relying on one correspondent getting news out of China.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect that leads to some level of self-censorship,” she said in the report.
As for Mooney, he believes that his visa rejection has to do with his coverage of human rights abuses in China. When he was interviewed at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, interviewers reportedly told him ‘If we give you a visa, we hope you’ll be more balanced with your coverage’.