With no word on visas, Canada’s CBC closes China bureau

BEIJING (AP) — Canadian public broadcaster CBC said it is closing its China bureau after the Chinese government ignored requests to base a reporter in Beijing.

CBC said its applications had been met “by monthslong silence from Chinese officials.” The broadcaster’s last correspondent left Beijing as China closed down amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The bureau, located in one of Beijing’s high-security diplomatic compounds, had remained open in anticipation of restaffing.

On Thursday, a plaque identifying the bureau remained posted on the outside wall but no one responded to knocks or the doorbell. Calls to the bureau’s number published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry also went unanswered.

China has taken an increasingly hard line in foreign relations, and ties with Canada nosedived after China, the U.S. and Canada completed what was effectively a high-stakes prisoner swap last year involving a top executive from Chinese tech giant Huawei who had been charged with fraud by the U.S.

China jailed two Canadians shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request. They were sent back to Canada in September, the same day Meng returned to China after reaching a deal with U.S. authorities in her case.

Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics,” while China has described the charges against Huawei and Meng as a politically motivated attempt to hold back China’s economic and technological development.

Canada has banned wireless carriers from installing Huawei equipment in its high-speed 5G networks, joining allies in shunning the company that has close links with the ruling Communist Party and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

Canada has also ordered three Chinese companies to sell lithium mining assets in Canada after it imposed limits on foreign involvement in supplying “critical minerals” used in batteries and high-tech products.

The order Wednesday came amid rising tension between the West and China over control of sources of lithium, rare earths, cadmium and other minerals used in cellphones, wind turbines, solar cells, electric cars and other emerging technologies.

China has increasingly restricted the presence of foreign media in the country while boosting its own propaganda presence abroad. The stance is in keeping with its increasingly confrontational relationship with the U.S. and Western democracies over trade, human rights and territorial claims.

China blames the U.S. for fueling tensions after Washington cut 20 visas issued to Chinese state media journalists and required those remaining to register as foreign agents, among other changes.

China responded by expelling journalists working for U.S. outlets and severely restricting conditions for those continuing to work in the country.

After being denied visas, many foreign media outlets have based correspondents in Taiwan and other Asian centers that protect free speech.

“There is no point keeping an empty bureau when we could easily set up elsewhere in a different country that welcomes journalists and respects journalistic scrutiny,” CBC News editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon said Wednesday in a blog post.

“Closing the Beijing bureau is the last thing we want to do, but our hand has been forced,” Fenlon said.

CBC said Philippe Leblanc, a journalist with Radio-Canada, the broadcaster’s French-language counterpart, would work from Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, after Chinese diplomats ignored his applications.

Canada now joins Australia in no longer having a permanent media presence in China following diplomatic disputes. CBC said it would be the first time in more than 40 years that the broadcaster has not been present in China.

The Asia correspondent for Canada’s main newspaper, Globe and Mail, is based in Hong Kong because he has been unable to get a China visa.

China’s media is tightly controlled by the Communist Party and Beijing regards the foreign press as an extension of the policies of their home countries, regardless of ownership and levels of state control.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the visa situation, but spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that, due to pandemic travel restrictions, China had waved a requirement to automatically close foreign news bureaus that went understaffed for more than 10 months.

Zhao also said China had facilitated CBC’s coverage of this year’s Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee requires that host nations provide such services as part of its contract with them.

“I want to stress that we always welcome foreign journalists to work in China in accordance with laws and regulations,” Zhao said at a daily briefing Thursday.

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