Posts tagged: Joe Biden

Late to the Party? The U.S. Government’s Response to China’s Censorship

By , December 9, 2013

Part 3 of a three part series on American journalists’ difficulty in obtaining visas to China.  For Part 1, click here; Part 2, click here

Journalist Paul Mooney in San Francisco

Journalist Paul Mooney in San Francisco

When China denied veteran journalist Paul Mooney’s visa request this past November, neither the State Department, Administration officials nor anyone on Capitol Hill said anything publicly about a U.S. citizen appearing to be punished for his speech.

Similarly, when China failed to renew U.S. citizen and Al Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan’s visa, forcing her to leave China in May 2012, a State Department deputy spokesperson merely expressed the Department’s “disappointment” very briefly during a regular Q&A session with the press:  “I would just say that we’re disappointed in the Chinese Government – in how the Chinese Government decided not to renew her accreditation.  To our knowledge, she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law, including regulations that permit foreign journalists to operate freely in China.”  Such has been the extent of the Administration’s public statements, until now.

It is certainly a positive development that Vice President Joe Biden, on his trip to Beijing last week, publicly rebuked the Chinese government for its treatment of U.S. journalists, tying Beijing’s actions to impacting “universal human rights.”  While the comments at last Thursday’s closed-door meeting with U.S. journalists were off-the-record, the fact that the meeting occurred was very much on-the-record, demonstrating that the Administration has finally realized the seriousness of the situation and the need to try a new tactic.

But one wonders if the Administration’s changed strategy – publicly addressing the issue – is too little too late.  According to reports, the Chinese

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden

government is still toying with the visas of approximately 24 New York Times and Bloomberg correspondents; without renewal by December 31, the New York Times and Bloomberg’s China bureaus could potentially shut down, much in the way Al Jazeera English‘s Beijing office had to close, over a year and a half ago, when Melissa Chan’s visa was not renewed before its expiration.

Why the U.S. Government Must Act – Protecting an American Brand

A free and vibrant press has been a central tenet of the United States; it was crucial to the success of the American Revolution, is encapsulated within the First Amendment and rarely if ever abridged.

For Americans, standing up for freedom of the press is important  in and of itself, but becomes even more critical when journalists from one’s own nation are being restricted.  Congress or the Administration insisting that China allow access to foreign journalists is different from demanding access for other industries; it is not some mere effort to protect the domestic media establishment. Rather, speech is a core value of the American people, and condemning censorship is, as Hillary Clinton put it, part of our “national brand.”

This national brand goes beyond the U.S.’ own borders.  As recounted by Chinese journalist Liu Jianfeng in a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, it is often the foreign press’ coverage of domestic events that provides the green light necessary for the Chinese media to cover more sensitive issues.  Liu specifically points to the 2011 Wukan protests, where over a thousand villagers demonstrated for months because of the local government’s land seizures, to make his point.  It was only because the foreign press started covering the event that the Chinese media was permitted to do so.  Similarly, Melissa Chan filmed her report on China’s black jails in April 2009; in November 2009, a Chinese magazine ran a similar expose.  In February 2013, signaling official opprobrium, a Beijing court sentenced 10 men to prison for illegally operating a black jail.  Thus, the U.S.’ promotion of freedom of its press in China benefits the Chinese people, bringing some accountability and transparency to their one-Party state.

Not Just a Moral Principle But Also Good for Business

good_businessChina’s attempted censorship of the foreign press – through its abuse of the visa process – certainly infringes upon free speech.  But there is a more mercantile reason to guarantee that U.S. media companies are not censored: information and disclosure are key to efficient markets.  Accurate information protects investors and businesses as it creates transparency in the market, placing all sides of a transaction on equal footing.  This is especially true where an economy, like China’s, is particularly opaque.

One of the apparent red lines for foreign reporters is the finances of China’s leadership: the New York Times‘ David Barboza wrote an October 2012 series concerning former Premier Wen Jiabao’s protection of his family’s investment in Ping An Insurance and Bloomberg published its June 2012 “Revolution to Riches,” an expose on the children of China’s revolutionaries and the power and wealth they have been able to accumulate.  Both have also become Beijing’s main targets.

What Beijing currently seeks to censor – articles about the overlap of its economy, major businesses and the power elite – are the exact articles

Cheers! Former Premier Wen Jiabao

Cheers! Former Premier Wen Jiabao

necessary to inform potential market investors.  Unfortunately as the New York Times and Bloomberg reporters appear on the cusp of a compelled departure, there are few news agencies that can – or will even want to – fill their role of hard-hitting financial reporting on China, a time-intensive endeavor.

But even articles about legal development, political unrest, growing wealth inequalities, environmental degradation and crackdowns on dissent, issues that Mooney and Chan fervently covered, are also important.  Businesses who invest in China hire companies – like the Eurasia Group – to inform them about these developments.  It is vital to their investments to know if the village, town or county where their company or factory is located is a political powder keg.

But by continuing to harass, intimidate and effectively expel journalists who cross certain red lines, Beijing is sending a message to the remaining reporters.  “The decision to deny Paul Mooney a visa has brought home to our membership the lengths the Chinese authorities will go to persuade foreign reporters not to report on things they don’t like” Peter Ford, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (“FCCC”) told China Law & Policy in a phone interview.  Foreign reporters who are left in China may not want to continue to take on these hard-hitting stories that could effectively terminate their livelihoods.  Their editors may not let them.  As a result, banks, investors and even the U.S. government will lose one of its most important resources for accurate and frank reporting on a country vital to America’s position in the world.

‘It’s Only Words’…Or is it Visa Retaliation?

Right now, approximately 24 foreign correspondents for the New York Times and Bloomberg are waiting for their visa to be renewed.  According to reports, many have not received their press cards, the annual cards issued every November by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MOFA”) and necessary to apply for a visa renewal with the Public Security Bureau’s (PSB) Exit- Entry Administration.  Under China’s new Exit-Entry Administration Law, resident foreigners, such as foreign journalists, are required to apply for a visa renewal at least 30 days prior to the current visa’s expiration (see Article 32).  In China, all journalists’ visas have a December expiration which could be any day in the month, with the 31st as the last.  Since it is already December 8, those journalists who have not received their press cards, are currently in violation of Chinese law.  However, as Gary Chodorow, a Beijing-based immigration lawyer, points out, the law is silent as to any repercussions to applying late.  But that is of little comfort to those reporters unsure if they will have to leave China on or before New Year’s Eve.

visa denied“Things are never going to get better if we don’t do something reciprocal” Mooney complained to China Law & Policy last week in a phone interview and prior to Biden’s Beijing visit.  “Some sort of stronger tactic would be helpful”  Mooney said.

But is Biden’s public censure last week and meetings with journalists sufficient to stop a Chinese government that appears intent on essentially shutting down two major U.S. media outlets in China?  Even in light of Biden’s actions, the Chinese government appears to have dug in its heels with a MOFA spokesperson stating on Thursday that “[a]s for foreign correspondents’ living and working environments in China, I think as long as you hold an objective and impartial attitude, you will arrive at the right conclusion.”  “Objective” was the same key word used in Mooney’s visa interview before his visa application was denied.

This type of stubborn behavior is precisely why some have begun to consider reciprocal visa treatment as a way to deal with China’s attempted censorship of the foreign press.

The U.S.’ Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) provides journalist visas “upon the basis of reciprocity” (see INA Sec. 101(a)(15)(I)).  Reciprocity is a foundational principle of the international order, guaranteeing that the treatment of one country to another will be returned in kind.  Reciprocity – and the fear of negative reciprocity – is what induces international actors to act reasonably.

While visa reciprocity is usually in regards to fees and other procedural aspects, reciprocal treatment can be used to deny entry to a foreign national.  The INA also permits the State Department and its consular agents to deny a visa where entry of the individual would have “serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States….”  What is a “serious adverse foreign policy consequence” is left in the discretion of the State Department and its employees.  In fact, the decision to deny a visa falls under the “Doctrine of Consular Non-reviewability” and is rarely subject to judicial review (exception: Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)).

With the U.S. issuing 989 journalist visas to Chinese mainland reporters in 2012, many of which are issued to Chinese state-run media outlets,

Chinese state-run Xinhua News in the heart of NYC

Chinese state-run Xinhua News in the heart of NYC

some have looked to deny one or two key visas as a form of reciprocity.  At the very least, some have suggested slowing down the visa approval process much in the same way the Chinese government does to U.S. journalists in China.

While legal, it raises the question of is this who we want to be?  The reason why the U.S. government should more publicly reprimand Beijing for its treatment of foreign journalists is because of the U.S.’ commitment to freedom of the press.  For the U.S. to refuse a visa to a Chinese journalist would undermine that commitment.  While many of the Chinese reporters do work for the state-controlled media, they are still journalists and should be protected by freedom of the press.  These also are not the individuals responsible for the Chinese government’s actions.

The U.S. government, in calling on China to stop censoring its reporters through the visa process, has the moral high ground.  Because of the principle of freedom of the press, the U.S. government is seeking to guarantee that its media outlets – outlets that often run critical stories on these same politicians – are able to report freely from China.  Even if not reported in the Chinese press, this type behavior still resonates with the Chinese journalists both in the U.S. and in China.

Robert Mugabe, No Visa for You!

Robert Mugabe, No Visa for You!

 

If the U.S. government were to resort to visa reciprocity, it should not look to restrict or delay Chinese journalist visas.  Instead, visa denials or delays of employees of MOFA or the PSB, the entities that are responsible for U.S. journalists current mistreatment in China, is likely more appropriate.  Visa denial of responsible government officials would not be a first.  The U.S. currently has a visa ban on approximately 128 Zimbabwe government officials and their families.  These high officials have been deemed to be partially responsible – along with President Robert Mugabe – in undermining Zimbabwe’s nascent democratic practices.  As a result, the U.S. has targeted them with visa denials

 

‘But Words Are All Have’…Other Options Open to the U.S.

There are still less extreme courses of action that the U.S. government can take.  Biden’s public statement in Beijing and meeting with U.S. journalists were a start.  Public admonishment of China’s behavior must continue and be regular.  In speaking with China Law & Policy, Ford, president of the FCCC, an organization which does not support using visa retaliation, stated that “the FCCC does not think it would be inappropriate for foreign diplomats to take every opportunity to remind their Chinese counterparts that Chinese journalists face none of the obstacles that foreign reporters in China are faced with. ”

In the U.S., this reminder must come from both Congress and the Administration.  Although Mooney has reached out to members of Congress, including his representative, Nancy Pelosi, Capitol Hill and the White House have remained largely silent other than Biden’s recent remarks in Beijing.  China Law & Policy‘s calls and emails to Representative Pelosi’s office went unanswered.

Fortunately, to keep this issue front and center, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (“CECC”) will host a roundtable discussion

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, shaking hands with former Premier Wen Jiabao

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, shaking hands with former Premier Wen Jiabao

this Wednesday featuring Mooney, Bob Dietz, Asia Program Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Sarah Cook, Senior Research Analyst for East Asia with Freedom House.  How well attended that roundtable is will signal to Beijing just how far it can go in its abuse of the journalist visa process.  Biden’s gestures in Beijing were an important start but will senior Administration or State Department officials attend the roundtable?  Will it be more than just Congressional interns in attendance?  China knows how to read Capitol Hill tea leaves as well.

There is a chance that the New York Times and Bloomberg reporters will have their visas renewed and the China bureaus will not be shut down.  But while the immediate crisis might be avoided, as this series has demonstrated, Beijing will likely continue to find ways to censor foreign reporters through the visa renewal process or through direct pressure on the editors of key newspapers.  The fact that this has risen to crisis level means that the U.S. government did not act boldly soon enough to protect one of its core values, freedom of the press.

This is the third and final post in this series.  To re-read Part 1, click here; Part 2, click here.

A Jersey Shore Analysis of the Hu Jintao State Visit

By , January 23, 2011

Welcome to the Jersey Shore!

State visits never produced tangible results, and last Wednesday’s visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. was no exception.  True a series of business contracts  and joint ventures were announced, but not much else.  Really though, that’s not why we watch state visits – especially ones involving leaders of the two largest economies in the world.

We watch them more because they are a reality show of sorts – watching two world leaders from vastly different cultures walk the fine line between appearing strong for one’s own country’s interests but at the same time, not completely trampling the other country’s interests.  But unlike the Jersey Shore where one might just be sent home from the beach for misbehaving (think Angelina Season 1 AND Season 2), the consequences are much more serious when you are dealing with two countries whose future relationship can easily determine the fate of the world.

Fortunately, this State visit proved a lot more peaceful and face-saving than anything being shown on the Jersey Shore these days.  While there were some surprises, especially on the Chinese side, there were no fist-a-cuffs.  Overall, the visit seemed to show an improved relationship, at least rhetoric-wise, between the United States and China.

But this is a Jersey Shore analysis so enough of the feel goodness; the question still remains – who won?  Below is a point-by-point analysis of President Hu Jinato’s State visit.

Point for China – Hu Finally Gets a State Visit

The fact that there was a State visit at all was a huge point for China.  It’s been 13 years since a sitting Chinese president

Ceremony on the South Lawn, Jan. 19, 2011

was invited for a State visit and President Hu’s last visit to Washington in 2006 consisted of a lunch with President George W. Bush.  Could anything be more embarrassing for a world leader than to just be offered the lunch menu at the White House?

Unfortunately, yes.  Hu’s 2006 “official” (not state) visit was marred with embarrassing moments for the Chinese.  First, China was introduced as the Republic of China – the official name for Taiwan – sort of a huge gaffe in U.S.-China relations.  Second, a Falun Gong practitioner, a religious order that the Chinese government considers a threat to its rule, was able to obtain press credentials for Hu’s 2006 visit and protest at the event.

But for this visit, the Obama Administration pulled out all of the stops, making it a State visit to outdo all other State visits.  President Hu was greeted at the airport by Vice President Joe Biden and quickly ushered to the White House for an intimate dinner with President Obama.  At all times, China was introduced by its correct name and there were no protests on the South Lawn.

Michelle Obama at the State Dinner for President Hu Jintao

Culminating the event was Wednesday night’s State dinner, perhaps the most anticipated affair this winter.  In addition to a fun and interesting guest list, Michelle Obama chose an amazing dress in homage to one of fashion’s favorite designers – the late Alexander McQueen – making the event the talk of the town of both politicos and fashionistas.

Point for the U.S. – China Gets (a little bit) Tougher on North Korea

North Korea is proving to be a particularly troubling aspect of U.S.-China relations.  No one – including China – particularly cares for North Korea and its saber-rattling as Kim Jung-il’s son takes the rein of perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship.  North Korea’s bellicose activities interfere with China’s economic relations with its Asian neighbors.  But China has yet to take a strong stance against North Korea’s actions even though such actions upset the stability that China needs to continue its rise.  China’s hesitance comes from the fact that it fears a collapsed North Korea; not only would there be the demise of another communist ally, but a collapsed North Korea would mean an influx of starving Korean refugees into China as well as sharing a border with the democratic and U.S.-military-backed South Korea.

For its part, the United States has begun to see North Korea as an increasingly real threat against its allies and itself.  As a result, at Tuesday night’s intimate dinner between the two leaders, President Obama explained to President Hu that unless China takes a stronger stance against North Korea, the U.S. will be left with no choice but to rebuild a stronger military presence on the Korean peninsula.

That argument eventually carried the day.  In the Joint Statement issued on Wednesday, China, for the first time,

Kim Jong-il, Beijing's friend or foe?

“expressed concern” regarding North Korea’s nuclear build-up.  Additionally, while China has urged the resumption of “six party talks” with North Korea, the U.S. has hesitated, seeing it as a reward for North Korea’s bad behavior.  Evidently China and the U.S. were able to reach a compromise: before any six-party talks resume, the two Koreas must first resume their dialogue (see paragraph 18 of the Joint Statement).  On Thursday, South Korea agreed to low-level talks with the North.

Half a Point for the U.S. –Human Rights Makes the Agenda but an Odd Assortment of “Human Rights Advocates” Advise President Obama

Human rights loomed large during Hu’s State visit.  After meekly raising the issue during his State visit to China in November 2009, President Obama was having no criticism of his commitment to human rights.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that apparent in her speech on January 14, 2011 when she not just raised the issue of human rights but also mentioned specific human rights advocates that the U.S. believed were been unlawfully detained.

President Obama continued to publicly press the issue of human rights.  President Obama publicly declared the universality of certain human rights as well as the need for the Chinese leadership to meet with the Dalai Lama.  Perhaps the most surprising of all was when President Hu admitted that China still had a ways to go in better protecting human rights (see the Q&A portion of the Joint Press Conference).

Normally, this should receive a full point.  But the U.S. loses a half a point because of form.  Prior to President’s Hu’s visit, President Obama met with five China human rights advocates.  These “advocates” included Prof. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Prof. Paul Gewirtz of the Yale China Law Center; author Zha Jianying; the wife of former Ambassador Winston Lord, Bette Bao Lord; and research scholar at the University of Maryland, Li Xiaorong.

While these five are likely well-informed on issues of human rights, there seems to be some missing names from the list of “human rights advocates.”  Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China has dedicated her life – and at times has risked her safety – to advocate for greater human rights protection; one can’t think of anyone else more qualified.  And if one wants to stick with academics (three of the five study human rights), it is questionable why Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU School of Law was not in attendance.  Prof. Cohen continues to lambast China on its human rights record on an almost bi-weekly basis in his South China Morning Post articles and actively supports many human rights attorneys in China.

But most of all, why weren’t the Chinese human rights activists themselves invited?  Currently, the wife of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is in the United States as is the wife of imprisoned human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong.  Why not invite either of them to speak with the President of the current human rights situation in China?  Or exiled dissident Yang Jianli currently residing in the U.S.?  Or better yet – why not have a Skype chat with any of the human rights lawyers presently in China (Teng Biao, Mo Shaoping, Tang Jitian, Liu Wei)?  The latter might be a bit too much to ask, but the list of human rights advocates invited to speak with President Obama should have been longer.

Point for China – U.S. Promises to Rein in Spending

As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China is very concerned about the U.S.’ spending habits.  The Federal Reserve’s announcement of injecting more cash into the U.S. economy through “quantitative easing” only worsened China’s fear that its U.S. dollar reserves would lessen in value.  So when President Obama, in response to a reporter’s question during the joint press conference, stated that the U.S. must take greater responsibility in saving and cutting the U.S. deficit, China was very happy.

Half a Point for the U.S. – Government Procurement

China’s closed government procurement market and its indigenous innovation policy has been a issue for U.S. businesses.  China is not a member of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) and as a result is not required to have an “open” government procurement market.  China has submitted two bids in the past few years to be a member of the GPA, most recently this past summer.  However, both applications have fallen far short and as a result, China remains outside of the GPA.

But surprisingly, in the U.S.-China Joint Statement (paragraph 27), China agreed to resubmit an application to the GPA by the end of 2011 and include sub-central government entities as subject to its proposal.  Such an agreement was unexpected and likely a welcome development to the U.S. business community.

So why half the point?  Seeing is believing in this case.  It’s not completely in China’s self-interest to be a member of the GPA at this stage so anticipate that its renewed application will still fall short of GPA requirements.  And even if it becomes a member, it’s questionable if China will enforce laws to promote an equitable government procurement market.

Point for U.S., Point for China – 100,000 Strong Initiative Articulated

Study Abroad in China!

During President Hu’s visit, Michelle Obama, in a speech before a thousand DC-area students, reaffirmed the Administrations’ commitment to sending 100,000 U.S. students to China on various study abroad programs (the “100,000 Strong Initiative”).  In 2008, less than 15,000 U.S. students (on both the college and high school levels) studied abroad in China. The U.S. has a long way to go before we reach 100,000 students but its commitment to achieving that goal is a win-win for both China and the U.S.

Americans’ knowledge of China is abysmally low; as China rises, our lack of our understanding its history, culture or language becomes dangerous.  Study abroad programs can help bridge that gap.  While very few U.S. students will continue on their China path after their study abroad program, just being exposed to the culture and the difficulties that the nation faces is important.  But there will also be some students that will continue on that path, providing an invaluable resource to the American government as China continues its rise as a global power.

The “strong” in the 100,000 Strong Initiative is more about strengthening the cultural ties and understanding between our two nations.  While China sends 10 times the number of students to the Untied States, it is important that U.S. students go to China for those Chinese who will never come to America.  What’s even more important is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative reaches out to community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, both of which have been underrepresented in China study abroad programs.  It is important that the students the U.S. sends to China reflect our great diversity.

Sec. Gates, not a happy camper on US-China military ties

No Points for Anyone – Military-to-Military Ties Remain the Same

There doesn’t seem to be a change in military-to-military ties.  After the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan last January, China broke off military ties and the relationship has barely warmed.  When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing a few weeks ago, a stealth jet fighter was flown unbeknown to even President Hu Jintao.

The Joint Statement (paragraph 9) includes language on improving and deepening communication between the two militaries.  But it appears to be boilerplate language similar to the language found in the Joint Statement issued after President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009.  The fact that China’s military remains non-transparent, secretive and slightly threatening is a serious issue.  The fact that President Hu did not seem to have control of the military, even though he is the nominal Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is even more troubling, for both the U.S. and China.

The U.S. military is stationed through out China and patrols many international waters.  The Chinese military is becoming increasingly assertive at times.  Small incidents have occurred in the past.  But without good communications between the two militaries, it is easy for any small incident to become an international one that could upset the stability in the Pacific.  Hopefully the promised high-level military visits between the two countries will soon produce results.  Then both the Chinese and American people will find it easier to sleep at night.

Winner?

It’s a tie. As far as State visits go, this was a pretty good one.  Everyone got something they wanted and can bring back positive results to their respective people.  Aside from military relations, U.S.-China rhetoric seems to be improving.  Hopefully this trend can continue.

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