China's alleged refusal to extend the visa of an Indian-origin American journalist has led to a diplomatic spat with the US which expressed deep concern over the “extensive restrictions” on the media in the Communist nation.
Megha Rajagopalan, who worked for the US news portal BuzzFeed.com, said her journalist visa was not extended by China, apparently due to her critical reporting on the volatile Xinjiang province.
In a statement on Friday, the US Embassy expressed concerned over foreign and domestic journalists facing restrictions in China.
“The United States is deeply concerned that foreign and domestic journalists in China continue to face excessive restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs,” the statement said, without directly referring to Rajagopalan's visa issue.
The Embassy listed delays in processing foreign journalist visas, travel restrictions and violence at the hands of local authorities among its concerns.
In an apparent reference to the number of Chinese journalists working in the US, the statement said that better access in China was necessary to “ensure reciprocity” for the open access Chinese media enjoys in America.
Beijing took exception to the US Embassy’s remarks. "I have noted relevant report. The US embassy in China should know that it should earnestly abide by the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, refrain from activities inconsistent with the status of the embassy and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
"As for the foreign journalist mentioned by the US Embassy in China, I said yesterday that she is not a resident foreign correspondent in China. As for issues related to visa issuance between China and the United States, the US embassy in China should be well aware of international practices," Lu said.
This is not the first time that a foreign journalist has been denied a new visa in China. Earlier, Beijing had not renewed the visas for other journalists, including that of Al Jazeera television and a French magazine, for their reporting on Xinjiang.
Rajagopalan, who has now been appointed as the world correspondent for BuzzFeed News, based in the Middle East, in a series of tweets, said "It is bittersweet to leave Beijing after spending six wonderful and eye-opening years as a journalist there.”
"In May, China's Foreign Ministry declined to issue me a new journalist visa. They say this is a process thing, we are not totally clear why," she tweeted.
In another tweet last month, Megha highlighted her story on "how China's sprawling surveillance state recruits, threatens and intimidates Muslim Uighurs into spying for Beijing and staying silent—even in Europe and the United States. My latest, based on first-hand accounts, text messages and audio recordings".
China blames the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for the violent attacks in the province and spreading Islamic militancy.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCC) said it found treatment to Rajagopalan "extremely regrettable and unacceptable for a government that repeatedly insists it welcomes foreign media to cover the country". "We are attempting to get clarity from the Foreign Ministry on its reasoning for effectively ejecting a credentialed foreign journalist from China," the FCC said in statement.