Visa approvals for Chinese news media executives trying to visit the United States could be slowed, officials say, or the administration could initiate trade actions in response to China's decision to block the English and Chinese-language websites of Western news organizations. Yet so far there appears to have been little work done on preparing such actions, and it is unclear whether it would succeed.
American officials, for example, were stymied on how to help Google after it dropped its practice of censoring its own search-engine results, after a Chinese-originated hacking attack on the company. Its share of the Chinese search market has plummeted to 3 percent.
Bloomberg's English-language website was blocked after it published an article in June 2012 on the fortunes amassed by relatives of Mr. Xi. Sales of Bloomberg terminals dried up in China, and the government issued no further residency visas to Bloomberg reporters.
Pressure from Beijing, some Bloomberg employees said, played a role in its decision not to publish a subsequent article investigating the ties between Wang Jianlin, one of China's wealthiest men, and Communist Party leaders. Bloomberg's editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, has insisted the article was not published because it was not ready.
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The Times's website, including its Chinese-language edition, has been blocked since October 2012, when the paper published stories about the enormous wealth accumulated by the family of Wen Jiabao, then in his last months as China's prime minister. Traffic to the Chinese-language site has dropped substantially, the company has said, though a growing number of Chinese have learned to evade the electronic blockades.
Last month, the authorities also blocked access to an online Chinese-language lifestyle magazine started weeks earlier by The Times after the paper reported that JPMorgan Chase had paid $1.8 million to a consultancy secretly run by Mr. Wen's daughter, Wen Ruchun, and that American prosecutors were examining ties between Ms. Wen and the bank as part of a bribery investigation. The government also stopped processing the visa applications of The Times's journalists in China after that report.
While the United States has periodically intervened on behalf of specific American journalists whose visas were denied or who were detained after visiting sensitive places or dissidents, Mr. Biden's comments were the first time a senior American leader had publicly accused the Chinese of aiming at entire journalistic institutions. Until now, such issues have usually been dealt with quietly.
His decision to go public was a reflection, officials said, of the far more aggressive posture China has taken toward foreign journalists over the past two or three years. To some degree that reflects a shift in Chinese diplomacy: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Japan began its slow decline and a large international press corps began to migrate to Beijing and Shanghai, the Chinese often attempted to woo foreign reporters.
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The turn can be traced to 2008, when many Chinese objected to foreign reporting of protests in Tibet, and what Chinese authorities felt was negative news media coverage of the 2008 Olympics, an event China saw as its coming-out party as the world's rising great power.
New, ad hoc restrictions began to be imposed, especially after 2011, when the Communist Party leadership feared that the Arab uprisings could sow unrest in China, and security authorities cracked down on potential protesters.
"It's looking increasingly like as a media company you have a choice in China: You either do news or you do business," said James McGregor, chairman of Greater China for APCO Worldwide, a consultancy, and former Beijing bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. "But it's hard to do both."