WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Chinese government withdrew the visas of three U.S. reporters who work for Radio Free Asia and had planned to accompany President Clinton to Beijing in mid-June.
The reporters — Washington-based diplomatic reporter Arin Basu, technician and producer Patricia Hindman and Mandarin broadcaster Feng Xiao Ming — were scheduled to travel from Andrews Air Force Base to China on a chartered aircraft carrying most of the U.S. based reporters covering Clinton’s nine-day visit to China.
White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry announced at a White House press briefing that the administration was working through the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to try to get a better understanding of China’s objections and to resolve the issue.
“Our view is that accredited journalists who are covering the president’s trip ought to be free to report on the president’s trip,” McCurry told The Washington Times. “We don’t think much of controls on the free press.”
According to the Times, the Chinese Embassy contacted the three reporters by telephone at their homes three days before their scheduled departure and told them their visas had been withdrawn.
Robert Richter, the president of Radio Free Asia, told The New York Times that he urged the White House to allow the reporters to travel to China aboard the chartered jet and leave officials in China with the final decision over whether to admit them. The White House, however, reportedly told Richter that they did not want to risk a last-minute confrontation with Beijing.
McCurry told reporters at the press briefing that the White House had discussed the situation with the airline handling the charter, and the airline said it was “obliged under international aviation requirements not to board anyone who doesn’t have a valid visa.”
McCurry declined to comment on questions about House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s suggestion to bring the reporters on Air Force One. “This is censorship — pure and simple — and the U.S. government must not stand for it,” Gingrich wrote in a letter to the President.
Before boarding Air Force One, however, Clinton met with the three Radio Free Asia reporters for an interview. In a question and answer session before the meeting, the President told reporters that the interview was meant “to send a clear signal that we do not believe ideas need visas and that we support freedom of the press in our country.”
Feng and Hindman are U.S. citizens; Basu is Indian. All three reporters are U.S. government employees who work for Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the U.S. government and broadcasts to mainland China in Chinese. The service has reportedly regularly angered Chinese leaders with its reports on human rights abuses and other issues.