BRIAN CANAVE WRITES – In the wake of New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy’s unceremonious departure from Beijing, neighboring Taiwan has warmly welcomed him for a temporary stay while he continues his coverage of the mainland.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that the government “welcomes international media enterprises and their staff” such as Ramzy. His arrival marks the first time in recent memory that a Times correspondent has been based in Taiwan.
Prior to this, Ramzy was in Beijing for more than six years covering China with a working visa from Time magazine. But he traded magazines for newspapers last year, continuing to travel to and from Beijing with the same unexpired visa while waiting for a new one. Unfortunately, the new visa China issued him this previous December was for a mere month and came with the expectation that he leave upon its expiration.
The visa issue is nothing new for the Times or for U.S. wire services. Thirteen months ago, another veteran China reporter, Chris Buckley, a former Reuters employee hired by the Times, was also forced to leave China after his visa expired.
As with Ramzy, China declined to grant Buckley a new journalist visa, forcing him to relocate in Hong Kong. In addition, Beijing has kept other journalists from Bloomberg, the Times and other respected outlets from taking up assignments in China in the first place.
Chinese officials have been unhappy with the Times since it published an article reporting that close family members of China’s old prime minister, Wen Jiabo, accumulated vast wealth during his leadership.
Even U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was stymied last year after publicly asking China to relent. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about the hurdles journalists face in China. “These restrictions and treatment are not consistent with freedom of the press – and stand in stark contrast with U.S. treatment of Chinese and other foreign journalists,” Carney said.
At a regular press meeting on Monday, January 27, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said Ramzy was not being expelled or forced to leave. Instead, Qin claimed, his visa had simply expired. The spokesman also accused Ramzy of violating Chinese regulations because he had continued to travel while waiting for a new one.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China expressed concern that the government is strictly controlling visas to influence coverage.
Ramzy better remember to fill out a work visa application for Taiwan as, at the time of press, he’s yet to receive one.