Posts tagged: J-1 visa

Forced Departure of American Journalist Megha Rajagopalan – Is it Really Not About Xinjiang?

By , September 9, 2018

***Correction – After this post was published, a reader with experience on Chinese visa issues informed China Law & Policy that it isn’t always that a news outlet cannot establish a permanent office because of economic costs or means, but also because the Chinese government will not allow certain news outlets to establish a permanent office, thus preventing those reporters the ability to obtain the J-1 visa.  We have corrected the post to reflect this important difference and thank the person who informed us.  EML, Sept. 10, 2018***

Buzzfeed’s Former Beijing Bureau Chief, Megha Rajagopalan

Every three years, the Chinese government has effectively expelled a foreign journalist from China.  It started with Melissa Chan, an American journalist working for Al Jazeera, in 2012.  In 2015, it was Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist for L’Obs.  And last month it was Megha Rajagopalan, the Beijing Bureau chief of the online news magazine Buzzfeed.

With each expulsion of a foreign journalist comes speculation as to why.  Why did the Chinese authorities fail to renew a visa or cancel a press card.  The Chinese government hardly ever explains its reasons, citing that such failure to renew a visa was “in accordance with law.”  But no law or regulation is ever cited, let alone a specific provision.  As a result, most outside of China view the Chinese government’s decision having more to do with the reporter’s coverage of China than with any violated regulation.  With Gauthier, the Chinese government was more explicit about its decision to cancel her press card, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) criticizing Gauthier by name because of her scathing editorial on the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.

Here, there can be little doubt that it was Rajagopalan’s reporting that resulted in her effective expulsion from China.  Under the law, MOFA clearly could have renewed Rajagopalan’s short-term journalist visa.  For some reason, it chose not to

Rajagopalan’s Reporting on Xinjiang – Why Is the Chinese Government So Sensitive About This?

Like Gauthier, Rajagopalan had done some hard-hitting reporting on the Uighers in Xinjiang, with an October 2017 article exposing the Chinese government’s increased surveillance and its mass detention of Uighurs for no other reason than being Uighur. Reporting from Xinjiang, Rajagopalan’s article was one of the first to uncover the Chinese government’s frightening oppression of Uighurs.  It also won her the Human Rights Press Awards’ Best Features Article (English) for that year.  In July 2018, Rajagopalan followed up her ground-breaking piece with another explosive article that brought to light the Chinese government’s pressure tactics on Uighurs abroad, including threats to send their Xinjiang-based family to internment camps if they do not spy on other Uighurs.

Xinjiang has long been a sensitive area for the Chinese government, fearing that the Muslim Uighurs could launch a successful separatist movement.  As a result, for over a decade, the Chinese government has instituted a national policy to “Go West,” encouraging ethnically Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang to develop this resource-rich area.  With the Go West policy, Xinjiang’s population has changed dramatically, with a current Han population of 40%, compared to 6% in 1949.  And with the increase in the Han population has come a decrease in the Uighur’s political clout and self-governance since Chinese Communist Party membership usually means giving up religion.  Few of the ethnically Muslim Uighurs are atheists and hence, unable to join the Party, and thus unable to effect change in their own region.  For example, when, in 2009, the Chinese government decided to destroy much of the the old city of Kashgar, a city that stood for centuries and was perhaps the most Uighur area of all of Xinjiang, the Uighurs were unable to stop it.  Needless to say, such loss of power over their own destinies and the attempted destruction of their own cultural identity has not produced a population satisfied with Chinese rule.

Some of the routes on China’s One Belt, One Road

And Xinjiang’s importance to the Chinese government has only increased in recent years as Xinjiang is central to the success of China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy.  Launched in 2013, One Belt, One Road is China’s very serious and well-funded attempt to exert economic influence globally. Xinjiang is the key land route to Central Asia and Europe, making it even more crucial that the Chinese government subdues the Uighur population.  To do so, in 2015, the Chinese government passed two national laws that had an disparate, negative effect on the Uighurs of Xinjiang: the broadly-worded National Security Law, that equated religious “extremism” with terrorism, and the Counter-Terrorism Law, which gave security forces significant powers to prohibit “extremism.”   Xinjiang was the first province to issue local regulations to carry out the precepts of the Counter-Terrorism law, including mandating governmental “aid and education” for those individuals who, while not convicted of any crimes, were induced into participating in terrorism or extremism, seemingly laying the groundwork for the mass detentions currently occurring. (See Xinjiang Implementing Regs of the Counter-Terrorism Law,  Art. 38)  And Rajagopalan’s article was one of the first to show that Uighurs were in fact being massively surveilled and detained in re-education internment camps without ever being tried – let alone convicted – of any crime.  Instead it was the simple practice of their religion that the government viewed as “extremism.”

Since Rajagopalan’s October 2017 article, both by the United States Department of State and the United Nations estimate that close to a million Uighurs have been sent to these internment camps without any trial, all for the purpose of stamping out the Uighur identity.  And there appears to be no end in sight with satellite images showing the rapid building of what looks like even more internment camps.

Chinese police officer stands guard outside a mosque in Xinjiang.

As more and more information began to emerge in the international media about the depth of the Chinese government’s whole-scale human rights violations against Uighurs, and as foreign governments and international bodies began to take notice and advocate sanctions against China, Rajagopalan’s visa was almost up and the Chinese government was in the midst of determining whether to renew it.  In May 2018, MOFA, the oversight agency of foreign journalists, informed Buzzfeed Rajagopalan’s journalist visa would not be renewed, forcing Rajagopalan to leave China as soon as it expired.

When questioned at an August 23, 2018 press conference, MOFA spokesperson Lu Wei stated that Rajagopalan’s visa issue was handled “in accordance with law and regulation” and, in his remarks, made a distinction, without explaining the significance, between Rajagopalan’s visa – a short-term journalist visa, known as a J-2 visa – and a resident foreign reporter’s visa, known as a J-1 visa.

Are J-2 Visa’s Non-Renewable Under Chinese Law?

Unlike the United States, where there is only one type of journalist visa, Chinese law distinguishes between two types of journalist visas, the J-1 and the J-2.  The J-1 visa can only be issued to journalists whose news agency has a permanent office in China (See Regulations on the Exit-Entry of Foreign Administration of Foreign Nationals (“Exit-Entry Regulations”), Article 6(5)).  Because of the “permanent office” requirement, J-1 visas are increasingly issued to only more traditional outlets; think the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, etc.  J-1 visas also confers residency status, and J-1 visa holders must also apply for a Press Card from MOFA within 7 business days of their arrival in China. (See Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on News Coverage by Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organizations and Foreign Journalists (“Foreign Media Regulations”), Article 10).

J-2 visas are issued to journalists who come to China for short-term reporting and there is no permanent office requirement. (Exit-Entry Regulations, Article 6(5).)  Traditionally, those are journalists coming to do a one-off story; for example, when a New York Newsday reporter travels to cover the U.S. President’s visit to China, or the Des Moines Register sends a reporter to cover the pork market in China.  J-2 visas are limited to six months (Foreign Media Regulations, Article 2) and J-2 journalists do not obtain a Press Card.

MOFA spokesperson Lu Wei

But increasingly, news agencies are seeking to send long-term reporters to China without establishing a permanent office.  This is especially true of online outlets like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, who, according to a source with knowledge of China’s visa issues, the Chinese government will not permit to set up a permanent offices.  or any agency that just doesn’t have the deep pockets of a Wall Street Journal or a New York Times.  But because they do not have a permanent office, Thus, their China-based reporters cannot obtain a J-1 visa.  Instead, the Chinese government has been providing these reporters with a J-2 visa with the understanding that the visa will be renewed when the initial term is over.  According to the New York Times, this was the deal that Buzzfeed worked out with the Chinese government prior to Rajagopalan’s arrival –a six month J-2 visa renewable upon its expiration. But when Rajagopalan’s six months were up, MOFA failed to renew her J-2 visa.

MOFA’s response to the question about the failure to renew Rajagopalan’s visa – that she was not a resident foreign reporter – seems to imply that the law does not permit the renewal of J-2 visas.  But this is not true.  Article 29 of China’s Exit-Entry Administration Law clearly contemplates the renewal of any short-term visa.  Article 29 lays out the procedures by which the holder can apply for an extension and the only limitation being that the renewed visa cannot be for a longer length of time than the original visa.

Al Jazeera journalist, Melissa Chan, back when she could report from China

In fact, MOFA has renewed J-2 visas in similar situations.  For two years, Matt Sheehan was the Huffington Post’s China-based reporter, meaning that his J-2, short-term visa must have been renewed every six months.  Similarly, Melissa Chan had three J-2 visas, repeatedly renewed until the Chinese government refused to renew her visa for a fourth time.

MOFA had the authority to renew Rajagopalan’s J-2 visa, it just decided not to.  And Rajagopalan’s reporting on Xinjiang was the catalyst that has led to the current international attention to Xinjiang, including the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s public rebuke of the Chinese government’s practices in Xinjiang.  In July, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a powerful hearing condemning China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and calling for the use of the Magnitsky Act against officials involved with Xinjiang.

Going to market in the police state of Xinjiang

Every day there are more and more articles exposing the internment of millions and the efforts to eliminate the Uighur culture.  The international heat is on about the Chinese government’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.  And the Chinese government’s failure to renew Rajagopalan’s visa was not just retribution against her.  Likely it was intended as a teaching lesson to other journalists – report on this and we might fail to renew your visa too.  Fortunately, no one has taken the cue and powerful reporting continues.  What will be the test comes this December, when all resident foreign reporters go through the annual rite of renewing their press cards and J-1 visas.  On some level, Rajagopalan, with her short-term J-2 visa, was low-hanging fruit.  Will the Chinese government conveniently lose paper work of resident foreign journalists, forcing them to leave the country while they wait for their paperwork to be found?  Or will press cards be canceled?  Or even more terrifyingly, will the Chinese government completely close off all access to Xinjiang?

Make no mistake, Rajagopalan was only the start.  Xinjiang – and the Chinese government’s desire to eradicate a strong Uighur identity – is too important for the Chinese government not to ratchet up its game.

China Expels French Journalist Ursula Gauthier

By , December 28, 2015

French L’Obs Reporter, Ursula Gauthier (photo courtsey or MSN.com)

In recent years, the Chinese government has taken a passive-aggressive approach with the foreign press, keeping many foreign journalists on pins and needles during the annual accreditation renewal process. But with the impending expulsion of French journalist Ursula Gauthier, the Chinese government has opted for a different approach: downright aggressive.

On December 26, 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) confirmed that it denied Gauthier’s application to renew her press card (official English version here), effectively resulting in her expulsion from China since her journalist visa – set to expire on December 31 – cannot be renewed without a valid press card. MOFA found Gauthier “no longer suitable to continue working in China” because her November 18, 2015 article in the French newsmagazine, L’Obs, “championed acts of terrorism and the slaughter of innocent civilians . . .”

In response, Western social media is ablaze with criticism of the Chinese government, calling its accusations against Gauthier unfounded and an attempt to censor the foreign press. And while these critiques may be true, the question still remains: are MOFA’s acts legal under Chinese law. Unfortunately, with laws and regulations that are increasingly vague and broad, the answer is yes.

Gauthier’s Article: Why the Chinese Government’s Panties Are All in a Bunch

Shanghai’s skyline lit up in memory of the lives lost in Paris in the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

As L’Obs‘ Beijing correspondent, Gauthier witnessed the Chinese government and people’s outpouring of sympathy for the French people as a result of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Chinese students left bouquets of flowers at the French Embassy; President Xi Jinping expressed his condemnation of such “barbarous actions;” and Shanghai lit up its Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the French tri-colors of blue, white and red.

But at the November 15, 2015 G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, the Chinese government sought to transform its feelings of sympathy into ones of action. Stating that there can be “no double standards,” MOFA spokesperson, Wang Yi, called on the global community to support China’s anti-terrorism efforts in its far-western province of Xinjiang (pronounced Sin Gee-ang).

In the past few years, hundreds of innocent Chinese citizens have been violently killed in Xinjiang in mass attacks, usually perpetrated by members of the Uighur minority, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking population that dominates the province. Some of that violence has spilled to other parts of China most notably the 2013 suicide attack at Tiananmen Square and a 2014 rampage in a Yunnan bus station.

While this violence cannot be denied, there is significant doubt as to how many of these attacks are attributable to international terrorist organizations – as the Chinese government claims – or are merely the natural result of a Muslim population increasingly frustrated at the Chinese government’s restrictive policies concerning the practice of their religion.[1] The Chinese government references the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an international separatist movement, as the perpetrators of these domestic attacks. But some Western scholars debate the group’s existence. Although the Islamic State (ISIS) has issued a call for recruits in Mandarin, it is unclear the extent of ISIS’s impact in Xinjiang. And by essentially sealing off independent foreign reporting from Xinjiang, the Chinese government does nothing to ensure that there is greater understanding as to what is really happening in the region.

2013 car bomb at Tiananmen Square (courtesy of the Daily Mail)

With this backdrop, on November 18, Gauthier published an essay in L’Obs highlighting that the Chinese government’s call for the international community to join its fight against terrorism was misplaced (rough English translation here). In “After the Paris Attacks, China’s Solidarity is Not Without Ulterior Motives,” Gauthier rejects the Chinese government’s claim that the current wave of violence in Xinjiang is the result of global terrorism. Instead, Gauthier maintains that much of the violence is likely the result of the Chinese government’s repressive policies toward Uighurs.

For Western readers, Gauthier’s sentiment is neither shocking nor new. Arguably, it has become par for the course. After almost every terrorist attack in the West, articles appear questioning the impact of the government’s policy toward the ethnic minority. After the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, plenty of articles questioned whether the attacks were also the result of France’s harsh policies toward its Muslim population and difficulty integrating into French society (see here, here and here). After the 2004 murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, Ian Buruma wrote an entire book analyzing the impact of Dutch immigration and assimilation policies on the murderer’s mindset. Gauthier’s article, while a bit more stinging, was in a similar vein.

But in series of op-eds in the Global Times and the English language version of the China Daily, the state-controlled press criticized Gauthier for having a “double standard” and, by not focusing on the death of innocent Chinese victims in the Xinjiang attacks, devaluing the lives of Chinese people vis-a-vis the French. If the Chinese government left its criticism of Gauthier’s piece at this, it would not necessarily be out of the ordinary or irrational. It wasn’t until after the non-stop press coverage of the Paris attacks and the outpouring of sympathy on social media did it come out that a mere day earlier dozens had been killed by an ISIS-inspired attack in Lebanon. In the U.S., part of the Black Lives Matters movement is to highlight the double standard by the U.S media in covering stories that impact the white population over the black population.

MOFA spokesperson Hua Chunying

But the state-run media did not leave it at that. Instead, it ratcheted up its rhetoric. On December 2, 2015, at a MOFA press conference, spokesperson, Hua Chunying, publicly criticized Gauthier. Over the next few weeks, MOFA met with Gauthier at least three times, demanding that she apologize for her essay. In addition, Gauthier’s address was leaked online even though in some of the responses to the Global Times op-ed, people were threatening her life. On December 26, MOFA denied her application to renew her press card, maintaining that she advocated terrorism and violence, an accusation no where evident in a reading of her November 18 piece.

China’s Recent Attempts to Use the Press Accreditation Process to Censor Foreign Journalists

Regardless of the validity of the Chinese government’s accusations against Gauthier, by denying her press card and thus her ability to report from China, the Chinese government has effectively silenced her. This is not the first time the Chinese government has used the press accreditation process as a form of retribution or an attempt to censor foreign journalists. But even in light of this fact, Gauthier’s case is shockingly different, with the Chinese government, after a ruthless campaign against her, publicly admitting that its decision to effectively expel Gauthier was a direct result of her reporting.

For resident journalists in China, the journalist visa (“J-1 visa”) and the press card are only good for a year, expiring every December.  Beginning in November, every resident foreign journalist begins the renewal process, first re-applying with MOFA for a new press card and then, once obtaining the press card, renewing her J-1 visa with the Public Security Bureau’s (PSB) Exit/Entry Department.  For those who change employers in the middle of the year, the process to renew the press card with the name of a new employer, begins earlier in the year when the employment change occurs.

Aside from the 2012 expulsion of Al Jazeera English’s Melissa Chan, who, unlike Gauthier, did not receive any public condemnation, all of the foreign reporters forced to leave China in the past three years have departed due to an alleged paperwork snafu.[2] These reporters were not denied their press credentials. Instead, MOFA ignored their applications due to irregular or improper paperwork. Conveniently, MOFA did not discover these paperwork issues until the eve of – or in some cases, after the expiration of the reporter’s visa.

Philip Pan, New York Times Asia Editor now based out of Hong Kong

All three of these reporters, Philip Pan, Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, were with the New York Times causing most in the West to speculate that these departures were not a simple paperwork issue.[3] Instead, the commonly held belief is that each departure was the Chinese government’s retaliation against the New York Times for its Pulitzer Prize-winning series that exposed the depth of former Premier Wen Jiabao’s finances and the profits his family has acquired over the years.

But it appeared that the Chinese government’s abuse of the foreign journalist accreditation process reached its peak in January 2014, with New York Times reporter Ramzy’s departure. In fact, in its 2015 survey, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) noted that there was a decrease in complaints from its membership regarding the visa and press card renewal process, with 93% of respondents stating that they were issued their J-1 visa within the stipulated time period.[4]

By the middle of 2015, it appeared that the Chinese government was mellowing in its attempt to censor the foreign press through the accreditation process. After Xi’s visit to the United States in September 2015, Chris Buckley, after a three year wait, was finally able to obtain a J-1 visa and return to China. Similarly, also after Xi’s visit, new New York Times China correspondent, Javier Hernandez was able to obtain his J-1 visa after waiting since at least early 2015.

Chris Buckley, New York Times reporter now based in Beijing after a three year wait in Hong Kong.

But the situation with Gauthier isn’t just a step back – it’s a whole new approach. In the past, the Chinese government was coy with its reasons to deny a press card or a J-1 visa. With Chan in 2012, it merely stated that its decision was in accordance with law. With Pan, Buckley and Ramzy, MOFA used the excuse of a paperwork error that it was unaware of for months even though it’s in the business of processing such applications. But with Gauthier, the Chinese government is not attempting to hide its reasons for denying her a press card. It has explicitly tied its decision to her November 18 essay.

 

 

Can MOFA Deny a Press Card for Reporting it Does Not Like?

While MOFA itself has not explained the basis in the law for tying press accreditation to a specific article, an interesting piece published by Beijing Youth Daily heavily hints at the source. The Beijing Youth Daily piece notes that Gauthier, like all foreign journalists, is subject to MOFA’s “Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on News Coverage by Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organizations and Foreign Journalists” (Foreign Media Regs) (official English translation here). Article 21 of the Foreign Media Regs gives MOFA the power, in serious circumstances, to revoke a foreign journalist’s press card when the journalist violates the Foreign Media Regs.

The Foreign Media Regs, which is more about the process of setting up a foreign media office and obtaining a press card, do not delineate which topics are off limits for foreign journalists. There is no mention about reporting on Xinjiang, Uighurs or even terrorism. But, as the Beijing Youth Daily post notes, Article 4 requires foreign journalists to “abide by the laws, regulations and rules of China, observe the professional ethics of journalism, conduct news coverage and reporting activities on an objective and impartial basis,” and “not engage in activities which are incompatible with the nature of the organizations or the capacity as journalists.”

It is this provision, which if necessary, MOFA will likely cite to for its authority to deny Gauthier her press card as a result of her November 18 article. By “championing terrorism,” MOFA has essentially stated that Gauthier has not reported “on an objective and impartial basis,” thus violating Article 4 of the Foreign Media Regs and granting MOFA the authority – through Article 21 – to deny her press card application.

Under Article 4 of the Foreign Media Regs, MOFA does not have to criminally prosecute Gauthier for a crime or even give her any form of due process (such as appealing the decision). Under the Foreign Media Regs, MOFA is the judge and jury of violations of the Regulations and with Article 4’s broad strokes, it is easy to find a foreign journalist in contempt of the Regulations. So for those foreign journalists who thought the worst was over in terms of the annual visa renewal process, think again. While Article 4 has been on the books for a while, China is now not afraid to use it. Welcome to Foreign Press Accreditation Process Version 2.0.

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[1] For example, in 2015, certain cities in Xinjiang forbade fasting during Ramadan for civil servants, teachers and students. In 2014, Shaya County in Xinjiang forbade men from wearing beards in public and called on the public to report them. In 2015, taking a cue from the French laws, the capital of Xinjiang forbade women from wearing burqas in public.

[2] While not expelled from China, in November 2013, after waiting over eight months for his journalist visa, former South China Morning Post reporter Paul Mooney was denied accreditation.  MOFA merely stated that its decision was in accordance with the law. Because Mooney was applying for accreditation from the United States for his new employer Reuters, this is not an expulsion from China. However, it was a denial and thus, does not fit into the category of “paperwork snafu.” Many in the Western press speculate that Mooney’s press card denial was the result of his hard-hitting reporting on China’s human rights violations.

[3] Pan’s departure from China is the least reported on and thus the least understood. However, if Pan had been denied a press card or J-1 visa, this fact would have been reported in the press. As a result, it is highly likely that Pan’s application was simply not processed due to some other reason such as a paperwork issue.

[4] The FCCC’s “2015 Annual Working Conditions Report” is on file with China Law & Policy.  To obtain a copy, please email fcccadmin@gmail.com.

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