BEIJING – Casting a spotlight on the lack of press freedoms in China, Vice President Joe Biden met with U.S. journalists working in Beijing Thursday after publicly criticizing how they're treated by China's government.
Closing a two-day trip to Beijing, Biden listened to concerns from journalists who may be forced to leave China in what some have perceived as retaliation for stories that have reflected poorly on the government. U.S. news organizations have warned China's actions could have a chilling effect on hard-hitting journalism and the ability for American reporters to operate in the country.
"Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences," Biden said earlier Thursday as he addressed U.S. business executives in Beijing. "We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists."
The White House did not release a full list of journalists attending the session with Biden at a Beijing hotel. But The New York Times and Bloomberg, in particular, have fallen afoul of Beijing over some of their reporting.
The websites of both U.S. news organizations have been blocked in China since late last year after each published detailed investigative reports exposing the enormous wealth amassed by the relatives of then-outgoing and incoming Chinese leaders.
In what appeared to be further official retaliation for their reporting, the two organizations have seen unusually long delays in approvals for visas for their resident journalists -- hindering their ability to replace existing reporters or hire new ones.
Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times, was quoted in her own paper saying: "Unfettered coverage of China is a crucial issue. At a time when China is such an important and compelling story, the world needs the highest quality reporting on it."
Earlier this week, a reporter for Bloomberg was excluded from an event with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, prompting a protest from Cameron's staff. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the reporter had been excluded to give priority to Chinese and U.K. journalists.
Responding to Biden's public comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China always deals with foreign media and journalists in line with laws and regulations.
"Over the past few years, we have provided a very convenient environment for foreign journalists reporting in China," Lei said during a press briefing. "Everybody can see the progress we made. Whoever upholds objectivity and fairness will come to a correct conclusion regarding the work environment and life environment for foreign journalists."