HONG KONG - China's leaders are defending
a new regulation restricting press freedom of
foreign news agencies in the country amid harsh
Arriving in London for
an official visit, Premier Wen Jiabao said he
believed foreign news agencies in China would
abide by Chinese laws, though he also added that
the country would ensure the free flow of
In Beijing, Qin
Gang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said:
"The regulation is to standardize the release of
news ... and to
intellectual-property rights of the foreign news
agencies ... The release of the regulation is a
demonstration of the spirit of the rule of law ...
China is a country ruled by law. There is no
absolute freedom in any country."
Sunday, in an apparent move to strengthen
government censorship and control information
flow, China unveiled a regulation that imposes new
restrictions on the dispatch of news stories by
foreign news agencies working in the country.
The immediately effective regulation bans
such agencies from directly soliciting potential
subscribers in China. The foreign agencies must
distribute their news stories through the
state-run Xinhua News Agency or via an agent
authorized by Xinhua.
The regulation was
unveiled ahead of the all-important 17th Congress
of the Chinese Communist Party to be held late
next year. Analysts say one aim is to curb
speculation about power struggles and sensitive
personnel reshuffles at the top before they are
"The Communist Party
and the government always view leadership
reshuffles as top-secret and want to carefully
guard [them]. But in fact, speculation is always
rife ahead of such an important meeting, which
officials fear may cause confusion among the
public. The regulation is apparently aimed at
preventing such speculation,'' one analyst said.
Last month, Zhao Yan, a researcher for the
New York Times, was sentenced to three years in
prison. Zhao was arrested in 2004 after the
newspaper carried a report correctly predicting
that former president Jiang Zemin would step down
as chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Though he was cleared of this charge, Zhao was
found guilty of the lesser, unrelated crime of
The new regulation makes it illegal
for foreign news agencies to distribute articles
that "undermine China's national unity,
sovereignty and territorial integrity" and
"endanger China's security, reputation and
interests". It also imposes restrictions on access
to a multimillion-dollar financial-information
market for foreign providers of financial news.
Xinhua is given the power to screen out
any information from foreign news agencies that it
deems harmful. And foreign agencies will be
punished if they violate the regulation.
Major foreign news agencies operating in
Beijing, such as Reuters and the Associated Press,
ran straightforward news stories on the new
regulations but had no immediate comment on how
their operations would be affected.
similar but less strict regulation has been in
place since 1996. It allowed major foreign
agencies such as Reuters and Bloomberg to provide
clients with financial information and economic
The new regulation has also
sparked concern whether Beijing will live up to
its promise to grant foreign journalists
unprecedented freedom during the 2008 Summer
Olympic Games in Beijing. But Qin played down such
concerns: "The regulation does not apply to
foreign journalists' reporting in China during the
But Sharon Hom, executive
director of Human Rights in China, was skeptical.
"These latest measures sound a wake-up call to the
international community that a closed,
state-controlled Olympics is on the horizon," she
told the Associated Press.
from the Committee to Protect Journalists,
described the new rules as "a step backward".
Reporters Without Borders said the changes could
have a "serious impact" on the work of foreign
news agencies. In a statement issued late on
Monday, Reporters Without Borders accused Xinhua
of becoming a "predator of both free enterprise
and freedom of information".
services that sell information directly to Chinese
customers are likely to be among the worst
affected. "We are studying these rules closely to
see how they differ from the current guidelines
and will be discussing the details of the new
regulation with Xinhua," a Reuters spokesperson
told the British Broadcasting Corp.
European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso also criticized the regulation, saying
that any restriction on press freedom was "a very
negative development". The European Union plans to
broach the subject during human-rights talks in
Beijing next month.
arch-rival, has also denounced the new regulation.
According to Taiwan's government-run Central
News Agency, the island's top mainland-policy
maker denounced China on Tuesday for its new
restrictions on information flow by foreign news
agencies in China, saying the new curbs are an
"outrageous" setback against the prevailing global
trend of protecting press freedom.
Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) contested Xinhua's
claim that the new measures are necessary for
promoting the dissemination of news and
information in a "sound and orderly manner". The
MAC denounced them "as yet another round of
suppression of freedom of the press and free flow
In June, the MAC said,
the Standing Committee of the National People's
Congress - China's parliament - began to screen a
draft package of regulations to restrict reportage
on breaking news, prompting the international
community to question its motivations and
The MAC continued that mainland
China's recent track record of human-rights
suppression and its clampdown on press freedom -
the five-year sentence to Ching Cheong, the
ethnic-Chinese correspondent of Singapore's
Straits Times, the detention and indictment of a
number of outspoken human-rights activists and
lawyers as well as the promulgation of new
regulations on the operations of foreign news
agencies in China - have reached the point where
the free world can no longer afford to keep mum.