Journalist Chun Han Wong, a Singapore national who has reported for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing since 2014, was denied press credentials to work in China, forcing him to leave the country this week. The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Hutzler reports:
Asked about its decision to not renew the credentials, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that it “opposes individual foreign reporters who maliciously smear and attack China. These types of reporters are not welcome.”
Mr. Wong was co-author of a report on a cousin of Chinese President Xi Jinping whose activities are being scrutinized by Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The cousin, Ming Chai, is a naturalized Australian, and authorities there are looking into his alleged use of a suspected money-laundering front company and the source of funds he wagered in high-stakes gambling.
Mr. Xi’s private life and those of his relatives are considered sensitive by Chinese authorities. Before publication, ministry officials urged the Journal not to publish the article and warned of unspecified consequences.
“It is disappointing that the Chinese government has denied our reporter press credentials,” said Matt Murray, The Wall Street Journal’s editor in chief. “Our journalism has been fair and accurate. We of course remain committed to covering the important story of China with the usual high standards that our readers expect.” [Source]
Wong was one of two authors of a July 30 report disclosing a far-reaching Australian law-enforcement and intelligence probe into Ming Chai, one of Xi’s cousins and an Australian citizen. The report, citing Australian officials and casino documents, detailed Chai’s lavish spending in resorts owned by the gambling mogul James Packer, and Chai’s links to what Australian officials deemed to be a money-laundering front in Melbourne.
The story noted there were no indications Xi knew about his cousin’s activities in Australia or that the Chinese leader was implicated in any wrongdoing. Still, Beijing considers the private wealth of top leaders’ families to be the most sensitive and taboo reporting subject of all, given the chasm between the Communist Party’s ideological rhetoric and the vast, often hidden wealth accrued by elite families since the party turned toward state capitalism in the 1980s. [Source]
One of most perceptive, even-handed and knowledgeable correspondents who will knock CCP when needed and deflate anti-CCP hysteria when he sees it. Precisely the kind of reporter a regime would want covering it if fairness, diligence, accuracy, expertise what actually mattered
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) August 30, 2019
Wong’s most recent work includes reports on the closure of the liberal Unirule Institute of Economics and an upcoming Party plenum.
Wong’s expulsion is the latest in a series of foreign journalists who have been denied permission to report from China as Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened control over both the domestic and international media. Megha Rajagopalan of BuzzFeed was denied a visa last year after reporting extensively on surveillance in Xinjiang. Melissa Chan of Al Jazeera was forced to leave China in 2012 after her credentials were not renewed, though no detailed explanation was provided. In 2013 veteran China journalist Paul Mooney also had his visa application rejected as he was waiting to begin a post for Reuters. In 2014, Austin Ramzy left China after his visa expired and a renewal had not been processed in what was widely seen as retaliation for a 2012 investigation into the family wealth of then-Premier Wen Jiabao by fellow times reporter David Barboza. In 2015 French journalist Ursula Gauthier was similarly denied a visa renewal after reporting on Xinjiang. More recently, DC-based freelance journalist Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian was denied a visa to report from China for AFP. Sui-Lee Wee of The New York Times reports:
In its article on Friday about Mr. Wong’s expulsion, the newspaper said Chinese officials had “urged The Journal not to publish” the article about Mr. Chai “and warned of unspecified consequences.”
[…] Foreign journalists have long been closely tracked in China, but the authorities have become tougher in recent years.
The tightening began in earnest around 2012 when China expelled Melissa Chan, an American journalist working for the English-language arm of Al Jazeera. It was China’s first expulsion of a journalist in 14 years.
In 2015, the government expelled a French reporter who had written about Xinjiang. Most recently, in August 2018, it forced out an American reporter for Buzzfeed News, who had written extensively about surveillance and mass incarceration of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. [Source]
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China notes that Wong is the sixth foreign journalist to be prevented by the government from working in China since 2013:
FCCC Statement on Effective Expulsion of Wall Street Journal Correspondent pic.twitter.com/gcdYVjCIxW
— Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (@fccchina) August 30, 2019
The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe, who co-authored investigative reports on the wealth of Xi’s family members in 2012, agrees that the situation for foreign correspondents has worsened since then:
In a sign of how things have changed, when Bloomberg published its expose of the extended Xi family wealth in 2012 (I was one of the reporters), not only was I not expelled but my China journalist visa was renewed for another year, with no fuss. https://t.co/kPIyGJELGl
— Mike Forsythe 傅才德 (@PekingMike) August 30, 2019
Melissa Chan herself notes that Wong may have been especially targeted because of his citizenship and his ethnicity:
China has done this to at least 3 other journalists since 2012 — @melissakchan @ugauthier @meghara. They also didn’t give @pjmooney a visa for a Reuters job. But this is the first time China has taken this action against such a large US news organization. https://t.co/alQhjKdZdj
— Edward Wong (@ewong) August 30, 2019
Chun Han Wong is Singaporean. This is a typical China strategy: The US government can't entirely speak for him even though WSJ is a US publication because he's not American. The Singaporean government was probably thinking US government ought to handle it, because it's WSJ. https://t.co/yIMhIhUYFX
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) August 30, 2019
As @ewong says, this is the first time China has done this to a major US publication. I wonder how much Chun Han Wong's ethnicity played a part. China thinks it owns all of us overseas ethnic Chinese. Reporters who write unflattering news stories are traitors to the motherland.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) August 30, 2019
The Committee to Protect Journalists also spoke against the expulsion.