During Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Wang Yu-chi’s (王郁琦) China visit, two Taiwanese journalists were unable to accompany him because Beijing refused to issue visas to reporters from the Chinese-language Apple Daily and Radio Free Asia, without offering an explanation. For this first official meeting between Wang and his counterpart, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), China did not think twice about extending its news censorship to Taiwan. This shows that its hostility toward Taiwan remains unchanged and makes a mockery of the “equality and dignity” that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration repeatedly stresses. In response, the council said that Wang and Zhang would discuss the equal circulation of news information across the Taiwan Strait from a pragmatic point of view. In other words, it could do nothing but accept the visa refusal.
A year ago, when a delegation of journalists led by the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) visited the Central News Agency (CNA) in Taipei, ARATS Vice President Wang Zaixi (王在希) expressed the hope that media organizations from each side would soon be able to establish permanent local offices on the each side of the Taiwan Strait.
Late last year, China Central Television (CCTV) also held a cross-strait press forum in Beijing. Before the forum closed, Beijing unilaterally issued what it called a six-point joint proposal, which included the exchange of media offices. China is clearly focusing its united-front work on the media, but its intention is not to promote mutual understanding. Instead, it is repeating the trick it used in Hong Kong before 1997, by establishing a media office in Taiwan that would serve as an underground command center for political affairs.
It is worth noting that, apart from politically controlling Taiwanese businesspeople in China, Beijing has co-opted some Taiwanese media using the carrot-and-stick method. It rejected the visa applications by the two Taiwanese media outlets to give them a lesson and force them to adopt a more China-friendly policy.
After the New York Times uncovered the financial situation of then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s (溫家寶) family in 2012, its Beijing reporter was unable to renew his visa. He was forced to leave China last month. This was the second journalist who was forced to leave China in about a year. In response, the White House strongly criticized China for restricting press freedom. As the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported last month, “Close relatives of China’s top leaders are revealed to have held secretive offshore accounts in tax havens that helped shroud the wealth of the Communist elite.” The news was of course blocked in China, and the ICIJ is now surely on its blacklist.
Just like air, press is free in a democracy, but in authoritarian states like China, news is part of the machinery of political control. News distribution is strictly controlled to make sure that reports align with political doctrine and this is precisely how Chinese media are operating under Beijing’s guidance. There have been media reports that all Chinese journalists are required to take a political test this year and that their press licenses will be revoked unless they pass the test. The test includes a so-called socialistic news line and the relationship between news and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is evident that since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power last year, he has restricted both Chinese and international media outlets for the sake of “maintaining stability.” The replacement of the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao’s editor-in-chief proves that press freedom in Hong Kong is controlled by Beijing.