BBC reporter Sha Lei reveals the grim reality of reporting news in China

BBC journalist Sha Lei was forced to leave China after nine years in the country under threat from the Chinese Communist Party authorities in connection with his reporting on the treatment of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang. He recently published an article about his experiences in China. He said he is the latest foreign journalist to leave.

According to the Central News Agency, Sha Lei published a first-person article on the BBC website on April 2 titled “The Grim Reality of Reporting in China That Forced Me to Leave,” saying that his experience is the latest example of foreign media pulling out of China in recent years, and is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global war on ideas and information.

In the article, Sha Lei said that when his family packed up and rushed to the airport, plainclothes Chinese police officers were watching outside their home, then followed them to the airport, trailing them all the way to the check-in area.

As is usual with the CCP, the article said, until the last minute the CCP propaganda machine was trying to deny that Sha Lei faced any risks in China, while at the same time the CCP’s practices made those risks very obvious.

After his departure, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the CCP-controlled media continued to attack him, claiming that his reporting on Xinjiang had angered the Chinese people, a claim that is unlikely to be true because “the vast majority of Chinese people could not see any of our reports.

Sha Lei goes on to recall that he arrived in China to begin his work in 2012, the same year that the current president, Xi Jinping, took office as general secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, the most powerful position in China. He writes that Xi Jinping used China’s rigid political system to tighten his grip on almost all levels of society; now that Xi has been in power for nearly a decade with an unlimited term, the media has become a representative battleground under his rule.

Sha Lei refers to the Communist Party’s “Document No. 9”, which targets “Western values” in the struggle (i.e., the “seven no-talk” ban on universities talking about universal values such as press freedom and human rights). He argues that the BBC’s experience shows that foreign media reports that expose the truth about Xinjiang, question the CCP’s handling of the epidemic and the origins of the virus, or speak out against China’s (CCP) authoritarian rule in Hong Kong have undoubtedly been targeted.

He writes that as foreign journalism’s space in China tightens, the Communist Party is investing in a foreign media strategy to take advantage of free and open media platforms overseas, allowing “war wolf” diplomats to tweet wildly against foreign reporting while banning their own citizens from using the same foreign platforms. Researchers at the International Cyber Policy Centre of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, have produced a report documenting This intensive, synchronized cross-platform strategy.

In this vein, my departure can be seen as a small part of an emerging, highly asymmetrical war of thought control,” writes Sha Lei. …reduced access to China’s pipeline will undermine our ability to understand what is actually happening in China, while China uses the institutional power of a free media to undermine democratic debate elsewhere.”

But Sha Lei believes there is still a glimmer of hope, for example, that many of the revelations about the reality of Xinjiang in recent years have been based on internal Communist Party documents and propaganda reports of its own.

“A modern, digital superpower cannot help but leave its footprint on the Internet, and the important reporting campaign to expose those footprints will continue far and wide,” he said. He and a growing number of foreign journalists will be covering China news from Taipei or other cities.

Sha Lei concluded by noting that there are still some brave and determined foreign journalists in China who are still committed to reporting the news, and a few prominent Chinese citizens who have taken great risks to find ways around censorship to tell the story of their country, such as the citizen journalists who are now paying the price for much of what the world knows about Wuhan before the city was closed.

Sha Lei wrote, “We should not forget that the people who continue to face the greatest risk for telling the truth in this new global battle of ideas are Chinese citizens.”

Sha Lei, who has reportedly been repeatedly pressured by the Chinese Communist authorities for his reporting on the CCP’s human rights abuses and other content, was reassigned from Beijing to Taiwan with his wife, Yvonne Murray, on March 31. Sha Lei’s wife is the resident China correspondent for Irish public broadcaster RTE. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China said on April 1 that Sha Lei had arrived in Taiwan and was now in quarantine against the epidemic.

According to European foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, Sha Lei’s fate is the latest example of the Chinese Communist Party’s expulsion of at least 18 journalists last year, as the authorities continue to harass and obstruct the work of foreign journalists in China.

In a statement, Josep Borrell said, “The EU has repeatedly expressed its concerns to the Chinese Communist authorities about the excessive work restrictions placed on foreign journalists and the harassment to which they are subjected.”

The British Foreign Office said it was deeply concerned about the lack of media freedom and the deteriorating media environment in China and would continue to discuss the issue with Beijing.