The Washington Post reported today China denied the visa renewal for Chun Han Wong, a Wall Street Journal reporter. The action came after Wong helped write a report on allegations the cousin of Chinese president Xi Jinping was involved in gambling and potential money laundering in Australia.
As the Post pointed out in the past the Chinese government has retaliated against foreign journalists through the visa process for stories that discussed the private lives and wealth of the families of the country’s ruling elite.
A 2012 Bloomberg News investigative report disclosing the Xi family’s investments resulted in a visa ban for the news agency that was only lifted after extensive discussions between Bloomberg executives and Chinese officials.
At least half a dozen correspondents for the New York Times faced lengthy delays receiving new visas or were expelled outright after the Times published a similar expose that year about former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth.
Why is this important?
Basically without independent reporting from China the global public would have little information about what is going on in that country. We would not know the economic and social pressures that are at play in the world’s second largest economy and up and coming military power.
And that is what dictators like the Communist Party leadership in China want. They don’t want information about the cracks and flaws in their society. They are especially afraid of the Chinese people learning about see the lavish lifestyle they lead.
Traditionally the big fear is an outraged farmer class. In the past the governments of China have tolerated a lot of push back from farmers because of their large numbers.The party’s biggest fear is that these farmers would see how well the leadership is living and compare it to the bone-crushing poverty the rural class faced.
Now, however, there is a growing middle class and these folks want to see continued growth. They are also more educated. So they know corruption impedes economic growth. So it is this danger the party leadership faces. They do not want the rising middle class to know just how much wealth the leaders have. Or how they give unfair advantage to their family members.
So for the party leadership their very survival depends on controlling the press and keeping their dirty laundry hidden. And that is why journalists who do what journalists do — finding and reporting on facts — are such a danger to the Chinese government.
The rest of the world needs to know this information because we have to live in a world where China is a major player. Whether it is economics or military, China has a role. And we need to know if they are playing fair or if they are cheating. (And then take appropriate steps.)
Knowing about a government leader’s family connections to wealth and possible criminal activity is a vital part of knowing how to deal with that leader.
And that is what a free press is all about.