Saturday, December 26, 2015

Submission or departure, China based foreign correspondent's dilemma

The job of a foreign correspondent is to ask questions, file a report and do the follow up. Therefore to feel the air of the time and act consequently, the rest is of no importance.

1987: 2 years before "Tiananmen 1989" an AFP correspondent was expelled from China for reporting on students demonstrations... 2015 Ursula Gauthier, from L’Obs magazine, attacked in state media for article criticising Beijing government’s approach to Muslim minority in Xinjiang, she will be expelled from China December 31st.

I have seen late 80’s the first demonstrations of students walking to Tiananmen, it was before 1989. The students, foreign, many from Africa and Arabic countries, were complaining about the harsh conditions of living in their universities and dormitories. They felt discriminated. At a time when Peking was “opening” cash was pouring in China from abroad, from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe, U.S. Students from China, ordinary Chinese started to live with a sense of freedom, more happily, free to start their business in free markets. The call of cash for work finally liberated in free markets allowed the Chinese business ancestral energy to do what they do best too: commerce. They expected freedom too.

Expulsion of journalists from China... An old story. Le Monde's correspondent in China 1976 -1982 Alain Jacob wrote in 1984 in his book "Un balcon à Pékin, le nouveau pouvoir en Chine" (A balcony in Beijing, the new power in China ISBN-10: 2246278813) that there are 2 ways to be a correspondent in Peking: you write everything you want to the point to irritate the Chinese authorities and you risk to be obliged to close your Peking office, end your work of information for your office, and/or be expelled, or, you choose astutely how to report about events in a historically very self reliant country such as China and let the office opened.

In China, being there and watching is the rule. (In Japan too) Those are societies were information is power and everything will be made to conceal information. So you need a guy to organise how to watch what’s happening. If you close the office, your media is dead and cannot say legitimately that it knows what is happening. Diplomats won’t help much, lie a lot, play with you, enjoy their no tax privileges. Journalists must be there.

Alain Jacob lived and worked in China 1976 -1982 at a crucial and dangerous time after the death of Mao Zedong and the arrival of Deng Xiaoping. Writing astutely means that you will assess the situation and have opportunities to meet VIPs, government, party members, militaries, influential people, heirs of power makers etc. When China's political laboratory decides to turn pages of its history quicker or slower, it is up to reporters to smell the wind of political campaigns and to decide what's best for the media headquarters. Stay or close or be expelled. Never, absolutely never a foreign correspondent will dictate to Peking what to write or what to think. In addition to read stories that are fake, cheating reality, working for other interest than plain reporting. Unfortunately, Chinese authorities use the hard way to deal with foreign media.

During the cultural revolution, during Tibetans demonstrations, during countless farmers' unrests and nowadays Chinese workers and salarymen protests and demonstrations in China’s kingdom for bankers giving serious headaches to the government of China, we witness such violence from police or army or gangsters against the "people." But it is not always the case, so what is the magic filter?

I reported in China about Uyghurs anti nuclear demonstrations for France-Inter during Deng Xiaoping, I visited Tibet during heavy tension, emergency period, crime and murders. I stayed at some Chinese people house in spite of the risk to be arrested by compound guards. Never arrested  but on the contrary many interesting things happened.

I have seen foreign reporters who were in China under foreign orders of kicking the Chinese backs, I have seen while in Peking the people who were true foreign correspondents who had knowledge, recognition and contacts with Chinese authorities, with eventually private visits by Chinese generals, officials, or invitations, some inviting at their official villa, or visiting the correspondents’ homes at night in their limousines... Not even 10% of the foreign media can say with honesty that they have "contacts" with Chinese leaders. I don't mean sharing from time to time the same restaurants. Today, it looks much easier than before to meet leaders and people of importance, but it could be said that this is where the "entrapment" starts.

So I feel really sorry for Mrs Gauthier, especially she lived so long in China. She must have known. And she won’t bow. So she will leave. Something is tragic and remains obscure in this story. China's mood remains, as she knows well, quite complicated to perceive, quite frustrating. She fell and Paris Quai d'Orsay did not show for her more help than Paris ever did for others, or for Tibetans or opponents behind the usual "langue de bois diplomatique" stale language from the government officials...

But the job of a foreign correspondent is to watch, ask questions and to know. Therefore to be there, smell the air of the time and act consequently, the rest is of no importance.


Articles also quoted:

China Expels Reporter for French Wire Service
January 27, 1987 By JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer
“…Lawrence MacDonald, 32, a reporter for Agence France-Presse and a U.S. citizen from San Luis Obispo, Calif., was the first journalist to cover the series of student demonstrations that began last month in the city of Hefei. He was the second foreign correspondent to be expelled by China in the last six months and the third since 1984….”

China expels French journalist who questioned treatment of Uighurs
"...Shortly after publishing a story that suggested China was using the Paris attacks to justify crackdowns on Uighur people, Gauthier was the subject of editorials in state-controlled media and even death threats, L’Obs said...."

French Libération daily: "La correspondante à Pékin de l’Obs, Ursula Gauthier, a annoncé avoir été informée vendredi par les autorités chinoises qu’elle serait de facto expulsée le 31 décembre... En poste dans la capitale chinoise depuis six ans, la journaliste est l’objet depuis un mois de virulentes attaques de la part de médias d’Etat et d’officiels à la suite d’un article "Après les attentats, la solidarité de la Chine n'est pas sans arrière-pensées" sur la politique décrite comme répressive suivie au Xinjiang, vaste région en majorité musulmane de l’ouest de la Chine.

(Translated from French)