NEW YORK -- With expulsion looming, the Chinese government renewed press credentials Thursday for all Bloomberg News journalists and some New York Times journalists currently in the country.
The granting of press credentials is a positive development amid heightened concerns about the ability of U.S. news outlets to report independently in the authoritarian country. Roughly two dozen Times and Bloomberg journalists are facing expulsion from the nation by the end of 2013 due to expiring residence visas.
In China, foreign journalists need to first obtain a press card from the Foreign Ministry and then use that accreditation, along with a passport and additional documentation, to apply for a J-1 visa to reside in the country. The process typically takes around two weeks. While it's expected that journalists who receive press cards will later obtain residence visas, it's not a certainty, as Chinese authorities can halt the visa process at any time.
Some have recently called for the U.S. to retaliate by withholding Chinese journalist visas if U.S. journalists aren’t granted access to report in the country. But Thursday’s development is good news for the foreign press and signals that extreme measures, like visa retaliation, could be off the table.
Edward Wong, a Times correspondent in China, tweeted Thursday that while some Times colleagues have received new press cards, none have yet received their residence visas.
A Times spokesperson did not immediately respond for comment.
“We have received all of our China press cards and continue to operate as usual," a Bloomberg spokesman told HuffPost.
Vice President Joe Biden addressed China’s crackdown on the foreign press in a visit to Beijing earlier this month that drew increased attention to the difficulties of operating there. Over the past year, Chinese authorities have blocked both the Times' and Bloomberg's websites following aggressive coverage of the country’s elite. Last month, the Times reported how Bloomberg self-censored by not publishing a critical story for fear of reprisal from the government.
Peter Ford, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, said in a statement that his organization “is glad to hear that all Bloomberg’s foreign staff in mainland China and some of The New York Times' correspondents have been given 2014 press cards by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
“We hope that this development means that The New York Times reporters still awaiting their press cards will be given them soon,” Ford continued, “and that all the reporters whose visa procedure is still underway will indeed be issued with 2014 residence visas.”
Ford added that the FCCC also hopes that Times reporters Chris Buckley and Philip Pan, who have been denied Chinese visas and are currently outside the country, “will be allowed to work normally in China."
The Times and Bloomberg aren’t the only news organizations that have struggled with getting press accreditation in China.
Several years ago, The Washington Post recruited Henry Kissinger in an unsuccessful effort to get credentials for then-correspondent Andrew Higgins.
On Thursday, the Post reported that one of its current correspondents has secured a Chinese visa, while the other correspondent received his press card on Thursday and has applied for a visa.