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China appears set to force Times reporter to leave

Despite objections raised by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in meetings with its top leaders, China appears set to force a correspondent for The New York Times to leave the country this week, and it is continuing to block a number of other journalists working for The Times and for Bloomberg News from taking up assignments in Beijing.

The correspondent, Austin Ramzy, 39, has been based in China for more than six years. He was granted a month long visa to remain in China at the end of December, but the government has indicated that he will be required to leave when that visa expires on Thursday.

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Mr. Ramzy would be the second Times correspondent in 13 months obliged to leave mainland China because of an unprocessed visa application. It would be the latest sign of official displeasure with the newspaper since it reported in October 2012 that close family members of Wen Jiabao, who was then China's prime minister, had accumulated vast wealth during his leadership. If he must leave mainland China, Mr. Ramzy is expected to continue reporting on China from outside the mainland, and will continue to seek a long-term residency visa.

A plaque is seen on the wall outside the New York Times office in Shanghai on October 30, 2012.
Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images
A plaque is seen on the wall outside the New York Times office in Shanghai on October 30, 2012.

After the article about Mr. Wen and his family was published, the Chinese government began blocking access to The Times's website within China, and has not allowed the newspaper to assign any new correspondents to its Beijing bureau since then.

In a case similar to that of Mr. Ramzy's, Chris Buckley, a veteran China reporter hired by The Times from Reuters in the summer of 2012, was forced to leave China at the end of that year when the journalist residency visa he had been issued as a Reuters employee expired. The authorities declined to process Mr. Buckley's application to receive a new one as a reporter for The Times. The Chinese government has not granted Mr. Buckley a new journalist visa since then, and he has been reporting from Hong Kong.

The government has also declined to issue new journalist visas for Philip P. Pan, The Times's new Beijing bureau chief, or for several employees of Bloomberg News. In June 2012, Bloomberg published a report examining investments held by the extended family of Xi Jinping, who became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party later that year.

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At a regular news briefing on Monday, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, said the government was processing Mr. Ramzy's application for accreditation "according to laws and regulations," but would not complete its work before his temporary visa expired. The Times filed a visa application for Mr. Ramzy last June.

Mr. Qin added that Mr. Ramzy had violated Chinese regulations last year by continuing to travel to and from the country using the journalist visa he was issued before he left his previous employer, Time magazine.

But Chinese officials never canceled Mr. Ramzy's previous visa and never raised the issue with The Times until The Times asked in December about progress on approval of a new visa as the previous one was nearing expiration.

Mr. Qin said the authorities gave Mr. Ramzy a temporary visa in December "in a humanitarian spirit."

"There is completely no such thing as Austin Ramzy being expelled or forced to leave China, as reported by some media," Mr. Qin said.

Asked about the indefinite delays in issuing residency visas for Mr. Buckley and Mr. Pan, he replied, "The issuance of visas and residency permits is a matter that only China as a sovereign nation can determine."
(Read more: China's rich fleeing the country—with their fortunes)

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokeswoman, said Monday: "We have been in regular contact with the Foreign Ministry since last summer about having Austin Ramzy transfer his accreditation from Time magazine to The New York Times. We have been seeking to adhere carefully to Chinese regulations on the transfer. We hope the authorities will work to resolve the matter without Austin being forced to relocate. It has been more than a year since another of our correspondents, Chris Buckley, was forced to leave Beijing while seeking to transfer his accreditation, and we are still working with the authorities to reunite him with his family."

On his visit to China last month, Mr. Biden publicly and privately pressed senior Chinese leaders to resolve the impasse.

Mr. Biden raised the issue with Mr. Xi twice, with Prime Minister Li Keqiang and with Vice President Li Yuanchao in separate meetings, warning of consequences in Washington if China failed to address the problem.

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At the time of Mr. Biden's visit, more than 30 journalists working for The Times or for Bloomberg in mainland China faced expulsion because the authorities had stopped processing their applications to renew their official credentials and residency visas for the new calendar year. Soon after Mr. Biden's intervention, Beijing began processing the applications again, with Chinese diplomats insisting that the delay had been routine.

Even so, the government has not acted on applications for Bloomberg journalists who are not yet working in China and are meant to replace at least five employees who have left the company's Beijing bureau. A representative of Bloomberg News declined to comment.

Nor has China given any sign that it will issue a journalist visa for Mr. Buckley or Mr. Pan, whose application was submitted nearly two years ago.

Mr. Pan was a bureau chief in Beijing and Moscow for The Washington Post before joining The Times. Mr. Buckley had lived in Beijing for 15 years, and his reporting career in China has included work for The Times as a researcher and for The International Herald Tribune and Reuters as a correspondent.

The Chinese government can process new resident journalist visa applications expeditiously, and it has approved many applications from other foreign news organizations while those from The Times and Bloomberg News have languished.

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Peter Ford, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, expressed concern the government was using visas to influence coverage. "The lack of an official explanation invariably feeds suspicions that the government is punishing The New York Times for the content of its coverage," he said. "This falls short of international standards and is deplorable."

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The Times, has said that in recent conversations with the newspaper, Chinese officials have pointedly objected to articles that explore the intersection between elite politics and the economy. The suspension of visa renewals in November came after The Times reported about a disagreement inside Bloomberg News over whether to publish two such articles. The Times also drew official criticism after reporting that the United States government was investigating whether JPMorgan Chase had paid $1.8 million to a firm run by the daughter of Mr. Wen.

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