Chinese President Xi Jinping said Wednesday that foreign journalists who have had trouble obtaining or renewing their Chinese visas might be the cause of their own problems and that media outlets operating in China “need to obey China’s laws and regulations.”
In a rare news conference with American and Chinese journalists, Xi acknowledged that he's aware that China has refused to issue or renew visas for a number of foreign correspondents, but he argued that the burden of fixing any problem is on the "party that has caused the problem."
"When a certain issue is raised as a problem," he said, "there must a reason."
Reporters for outlets including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters and Al Jazeera have been among those who have encountered difficulty obtaining permission to report in China in recent years. Stories by the New York Times, Bloomberg and other outlets outlining the wealth amassed by the families of senior Chinese leaders -- including Xi’s -- have proved a major irritant and embarrassment to Chinese authorities.
After the New York Times published stories on the family wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao, the government blocked the newspaper's Chinese-language website. (The article by David Barboza was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in April 2013.) The New York Times’ English-language site is also inaccessible in mainland China, along with those of outlets including Bloomberg and the Guardian.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China in September released an extensive report on the barriers faced by overseas journalists in the country and said "in 2013 it became patently obvious that Chinese authorities abuse the press card and ... visa renewal process in a political manner."
Xi’s comments came after a New York Times reporter asked about the visa problems in the news conference following a closed-door meeting between Xi and President Obama.
But the White House had been pushing for weeks for a joint question-and-answer session after the bilateral meeting.
At first it appeared that Xi was ignoring the question, as he went on to acknowledge a Chinese reporter and then to give a lengthy answer about China's role in the world.
And he compared the journalists' troubles to a car that has broken down. "When a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to get out of the car to see where the problem lies," Xi said, through a translator. "When a certain issue is raised as a problem, there must be a reason."
"The party that has caused the problem," he said, "should be the one to help resolve it."
It was unclear what "laws and regulations" Xi believes foreign journalists might have violated. Reforms announced around the 2008 Olympics supposedly give foreign journalists freedom to travel anywhere in China -- except Tibet -- without permission and to interview anyone who consents to be interviewed.
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