WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also Subcommittee Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have introduced a Senate Resolution (S. Res. 361) that urges the People’s Republic of China to take meaningful steps to improve freedom of expression in China as fitting of a responsible international stakeholder. Over the past year, China has increased efforts to curb the work of foreign news organizations, including extended delays in processing journalist visas, restrictions on access to “sensitive” locations and individuals, pressure on their local staff, blocked websites, and reports of cyber hacking of media organizations.
“The ongoing crackdown on journalists and members of the press reporting in China is a grave concern. A country that engages in routine censorship and online blocking; harassment, reprisals, and detention of journalists; and visa delays or denials for journalists not only fails its own people, but also fails the international community,” said Senator Cardin. “As we look to rebalance our policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has a responsibility to promote respect for universal human rights. We urge the President to use all appropriate tools to improve and promote freedom of the press in China.”
“Press freedom is a fundamental human right that exists to protect people from oppressive, corrupt and overreaching governments. Ensuring the free flow of information and opinions must be a key pillar of America’s global human rights agenda. People, societies, economies and entire nations benefit when criticism is encouraged as a means to achieve progress. The Chinese government should not fear the great benefits to be gained from greater political and religious freedoms,” Senator Rubio said.
“An open press is the hallmark of a thriving society, but the Chinese people are being denied these freedoms by their own government,” said Senator Menendez. “A great nation embraces opposition and dissent, welcoming honest and critical news reporting. Press freedom is an essential element of good governance, not a hindrance and the Chinese government should take proactive reforms to encourage an open and independent media in China.”
“The assault on press freedom in China is a serious problem that demands a forceful U.S. response. While first and foremost a human rights issue, censorship also has economic consequences for news organizations losing money when their websites are blocked,” said Senator Corker. “The U.S. should make these concerns a high priority, along with other economic, security and human rights issues, in our regular discussions with Chinese leadership.”
On January 30, the White House released a statement expressing deep concern “that foreign journalists in China continue to face restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs, including extended delays in processing journalist visas, restrictions on travel to certain locations deemed ‘sensitive’ by Chinese authorities and, in some cases, violence at the hands of local authorities.” New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy was forced to leave China on January 30 due to processing delays for his press credentials.
The full text of the resolution follows:
Recognizing the threats to freedom of the press and expression in the People’s Republic of China and urging the Government of the People’s Republic of China to take meaningful steps to improve freedom of expression as fitting of a responsible international stakeholder.
Whereas, in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked China 173rd out of 179 countries in terms of press freedoms;
Whereas China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, enforces a system of strict controls, including an extensive licensing system and government supervision by the Chinese Communist Party;
Whereas domestic radio and television broadcast journalists in China must pass a government-sponsored exam that tests their basic knowledge of Marxist views of news and communist party principles;
Whereas this state supervision of the media distorts and blocks free and open coverage of key issues including Tibet, political unrest, and corruption by government officials, as well as Chinese foreign policy;
Whereas China’s media regulator officially bans journalists from using foreign media reports without authorization and forbids news editors from reporting information online that has not been verified through official channels;
Whereas the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) has documented several instances of reprisals against and harassment of independent journalists and newspaper staff by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, including Chinese journalists working for foreign-based websites and newspapers;
Whereas the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has noted that foreign journalists continue to face challenging work conditions, visa denials or delays, and various forms of harassment, and 70 percent of journalists surveyed in the FCCC’s 2013 annual survey stated that “conditions have worsened or stayed the same as the year before”;
Whereas, according to the CECC, authorities in China appeared to maintain or enhance policies to block and filter online content, particularly sensitive information about rights activists, official corruption, or collective organizing;
Whereas China is the world’s second largest economy and the United States’ second largest trading partner and has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 2001;
Whereas China’s growing economic importance increases the need for the Government of the People’s Republic of China to act transparently and respect international trading regulations; and
Whereas official government censorship denies the people of China, including nearly 600,000,000 Internet users, their freedom of expression, undermines confidence in China’s safety standards, and causes increasingly serious economic harm to private firms that rely on unfettered access to social media as a business model: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) reaffirms the importance of freedom of the press to efforts by the United States Government to support democracy, mitigate conflict, and promote good governance domestically and around the world;
(2) expresses concern about the threats to freedom of the press and expression in the People’s Republic of China;
(3) condemns actions taken by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to suppress freedom of the press, including the increased harassment of Chinese and international journalists through denial of visas, harassment of sources, physical threats, and other methods; and
(4) urges the President to use all appropriate instruments of United States influence to support, promote, and strengthen principles, practices, and values that promote the free flow of information to the people of China without interference or discrimination, including through the Internet and other electronic media.