Correspondent of London Paper Expelled by Beijing : China: Action is apparently related to his reportage on the secret arrest of ethnic Mongolian nationalists.
China ordered the expulsion on Friday of Andrew Higgins, Beijing correspondent for the Independent of London, giving him two days to pack his belongings and leave the country.
Higgins, 33, fluent in Chinese and highly regarded by the foreign press corps in Beijing, said authorities refused to explain his ouster.
But it appeared that the action came in response to his reporting three months ago on a confidential document revealing the arrests of ethnic Mongolian nationalists in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Security agents had searched Higgins in June while he was on a reporting trip to eastern China’s Shandong province after the article was published and discovered a copy of the document in his possession.
He was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Thursday, where an official took his press pass. He was called to the Public Security Bureau Friday and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. “They just said they had received orders by higher relevant organs,” Higgins said.
Higgins’ expulsion is the first of a Beijing-based correspondent since June, 1989, when two American reporters, Alan Pessin of the Voice of America and John Pomfret of the Associated Press, were expelled after the brutal crackdown that ended seven weeks of pro-democracy protests that engulfed Beijing.
Much information that would be public in most countries is officially considered “internal,” or classified, in China. This includes political tracts widely disseminated within the Communist Party and even pirated articles of the foreign media, translated and circulated daily to millions of readers in an “internal” newspaper called Reference News.
It is not unusual for Beijing-based correspondents to write articles based on confidential documents or supposedly secret information. This means that no one can ever be quite sure what is permitted, or who may be next in line for punishment.
Higgins’ expulsion order came just a day after former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher finished a private visit to Beijing, and less than two weeks after her successor, John Major, paid the first visit to China by a European leader since the 1989 crackdown on dissent.
Higgins studied Chinese at Cambridge University and spent a postgraduate year at Shandong University. He was the Beijing correspondent for The Independent for nearly four years and wrote a book about the pro-democracy movement and the crackdown on it.