BEIJING Jan 27 China's Foreign Ministry said on
Monday that a China-based reporter for the New York Times broke
rules on residence visas and would be leaving the country before
the end of the week, in a case which could sour Beijing's
relations with Washington.
The issue of media freedom for foreign reporters in China
has attracted high-level concern in the United States,
especially over worries that the government is denying visas for
organisations that carry negative stories about China.
Last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden expressed concern,
while on a visit to Beijing, over China's efforts to restrict
the activities of foreign news organisations.
Neither the New York Times Co nor Bloomberg News has
been given new journalist visas for more than a year after they
published stories about the wealth of family members of former
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and current President Xi Jinping,
The New York Times applied for a journalist accreditation in
China for U.S. national Austin Ramzy in the middle of last year,
after he left Time magazine.
Ramzy remained in the country on the visa that he had
received while working for Time, which was valid until the end
of 2013. Chinese authorities then issued him a 30-day visa,
valid until Jan. 30, ostensibly to give him enough time to
prepare to leave the country.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Ramzy informed them
in May that he was no longer working for Time magazine and he
handed back his government-issued press card, which foreign
reporters are required to have to report legally in the country.
"But Austin Ramzy did not, in accordance with Chinese
regulations, apply to other Chinese departments to change his
visa type and his residence permit type, which previously was
for Time," Qin told a daily news briefing.
"Regretfully, Austin Ramzy did not do this, and he continued
to use his existing residence permit to come and go from China.
So his actions were in contravention of China's rules," he
Residence permits in China are contingent upon employment,
and foreign nationals are supposed to leave the country when
they no longer work for the organisation which sponsored their
residence permit, or else convert to another visa type.
Ramzy declined to comment when reached by Reuters, and the
New York Times did not immediately respond to an emailed request
"The NY Times, following rules, handed Foreign Ministry a
visa application for Austin Ramzy last June. They have not
approved it," Edward Wong, acting Beijing bureau chief for the
Times, said on Twitter.
Qin said that both the New York Times and Ramzy had admitted
to the Foreign Ministry to contravening China's rules, and that
the ministry had granted Ramzy a visa valid until the end of
January to give him time to sort out personal affairs.
Qin added that the Foreign Ministry was currently handling
the New York Times' request for accreditation for Ramzy, but
that it would not be completed before Jan. 31, implying that he
would have to leave when his visa expires on Jan. 30.
If that happens, Ramzy's case will be the second time in 13
months that a New York Times reporter has had to leave China.
Chris Buckley, a former Reuters journalist, had to leave Beijing
in December 2012 after the government did not approve his
accreditation for the New York Times.
Buckley has not yet received approval to return to China as
a resident journalist. He works from Hong Kong.
The newspaper has another outstanding China visa
application, for Philip Pan, its Beijing bureau chief in
Asked whether China would grant journalist visas to either
Buckley or Pan, Qin said it was China's sovereign right to
decide to whom it granted journalist accreditations and visas.
Foreign reporters working in China face numerous
difficulties, including interference, or even violence, when
covering sensitive issues such as protests and dissidents'
trials. China says foreign media are granted wide-ranging
In November, the Chinese government rejected a visa
application by Paul Mooney, an American journalist to whom
Thomson Reuters had extended an offer to work in China. The
government gave no reason for the rejection.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Neil