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RFI: “Sponsored” Journalists from Asia and African Countries Were Told They Could Only Write Positive Reports about China

Radio France Internationale reported that, according to The Print, an Indian Media, in order to cooperate with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt and One Road” project, Beijing formulated a plan to target media in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa. The plan was to set up a “scholarship program” to host foreign journalists in China free of charge, including living in a luxury residence outside Beijing’s Jianguomen which is normally reserved for diplomats. Once these journalists finished the program, they would receive a certificate from a Chinese university and tour other regions in China. A requirement is that they must write positive reports on Beijing’s authorities.

According to The Print, starting from 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has hosted about 100 journalists from Asian and African media to complete a so-called scholarship program which lasted for ten months. These foreign journalists would receive red carpet-style hospitality and live free of charge in the residences reserved for diplomats. The monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit in the area normally is 22,000 yuan (US$3,200). The journalist could travel to other provinces free of charge every month and earn an allowance of 5,000 yuan (US$728) per month. At the end of the program, a Chinese university would issue a certificate in international relations and they would be given the right to interview Chinese government officials and ministers. As part of the program, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Diplomacy Association jointly set up the China Africa News Center, the China Southeast Asia News Center, and the China South Asia News Center. These centers granted a press permit to the sponsored foreign journalists. The journalist identity of the original news organization did not work in China. During the 10-month stay, they were not allowed to do interviews about sensitive topics such as human rights, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

According to The Print, in the past three years, journalists participating in the program have come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other countries and regions. These journalists’ news organizations published most of their news reports, but those media wouldn’t disclose that China gave their journalists special treatment. India, however, was an exception. According to The Print, the Indian Embassy in Beijing clearly separated these journalists from the rest of the Indian journalists who are independently registered to work in China. Indian Journalists who attended China’s sponsored program were not allowed to participate in official Indian events or obtain official background information. Those China sponsored journalists were told that, when they wrote their reports, they had to bear in mind that China has a friendly relationship with their countries, especially about the “one belt and one road” project. One journalist from a Southeast Asia country told The Print that they were specifically informed that they could not report about the conflicts in the South China Sea. The Print quoted one as saying, “We were told that if we wished to complete the sponsorship program, we must write positive reports about China.”

Source: Radio France Internationale, December 1, 2018