Taiwan has registered 22 newly arrived foreign journalists so far this year, including some barred from working in China, a political rival of Taipei, which lures them with media freedoms.
The journalists registered “because we provide for freedom of speech and press and respect these rights in practice,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Thursday in a statement for VOA. China monitors journalists, censors the internet and expelled several American reporters earlier this year.
Seven of the 22 had been based before in China, excluding Hong Kong, including some who were expelled from Beijing in March over published content that the Chinese government resented. The expelled journalists had worked for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
“As a result of the expulsion order by the Chinese government, we have relocated some affected correspondents in various locations in the region, including Taipei,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, New York Times Co. communications vice president.
China and Taiwan struggle to get along. Each is self-ruled, but China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and it has threatened use of force to make the two sides unify.
Foreign correspondents normally prefer a Beijing base as a news hub for Chinese government announcements and major diplomatic events. Reporters in Taiwan would have to cover China using internet tools and occasional travel, as allowed.
Both locations are in the same time zone and a flight from Taiwan to China takes as little as 80 minutes. Flights from Taipei to major cities in Southeast Asia take two to four hours each. Japan and South Korea are each about three hours away.
“Even when they’re away from China, they can still do a lot of research interviews on the internet,” said Ku Lin-lin, associate journalism professor at National Taiwan University.
Reporters in China risk being tracked by police and sometimes detained as they work on politically sensitive stories. The Communist Party and Chinese government agencies “have long sought to influence public debate and media coverage” of their country “through obstruction of foreign correspondents,” the Freedom House advocacy group said in a study this year. The past 10 years have seen a “dramatic expansion in efforts to shape media content,” the study says.
Chinese authorities sometimes secretly assign people to follow foreign correspondents, said George Hou, mass communications lecturer at I-Shou University in Taiwan.
“They will assign some people to supervise you or to monitor you,” Hou said.
As a democracy, Taiwan legally allows reporters to cover any topic and interview anyone. The 2020 Freedom House report on global freedom ranks Taiwan among the freest places in Asia.
“It wants to present itself as a value-based country and the values around democracy and human rights have been articulated, and not just for itself,” said James Gomez, regional director at the Bangkok-based think tank Asia Center.
“I think it also wants to set an example for others, so it kind of wants to walk the talk,” he said.
A total of 114 journalists from 68 foreign media outlets are now based in Taiwan.
Hong Kong risks
Media outlets that focus on Asia news traditionally station Asia correspondents in Hong Kong, Bangkok or Singapore, except for those covering Japan or the Koreas, Gomez said. Those three cities are likely to stay ahead of Taiwan, he said, although reporters shy away from covering Thailand or Singapore when based there – in line with those governments’ expectations.
Foreign reporters in Hong Kong risk being denied visas by a new national security unit under the Chinese territory’s Immigration Department, media outlets in the territory have reported.
“You could be ousted anytime,” said Cedric Alviani, East Asia bureau director with the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. “Your visa renewal might be denied. This is a major threat for the stability of the operation.”
However, many people in Taiwan lack the English skills and widespread international awareness that have drawn journalists to places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, Ku said. And Taiwan may need new legislation to smooth the legal process for media outlets hoping to open news bureaus, Gomez said.
Reporters covering China from Taiwan will eventually find their work hobbled by lack of face-to-face encounters with sources in China unless they visit the other side periodically, Ku added. Those without Chinese visas would need to apply for them outside Taiwan, which lacks Chinese consular services, and risk being rejected.