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Kerry should press Beijing on press freedom

Tibetan blogger Woeser waves from the balcony of her home in Beijing on March 8. She was named an International Woman of Courage by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but rather than being allowed to accept it, she was placed under house arrest. (Reuters/Petar Kujundzic)

As John Kerry visits China this weekend in his first trip there as U.S. secretary of state, he should take the opportunity to engage Chinese leaders on their problematic record regarding press freedom. 

For some in-flight reading, I recommend CPJ's recent special report, "Challenged in China," which sheds light on the shifting dynamics of censorship domestically and the expanding role of China's state media across the world. The report lays out how cracks in Beijing's Great Firewall allow a measure of free expression, while at the same time journalists face continued legal risks as the country is still one of the world's worst jailers of journalists.

Since the report was published, some events have highlighted the precarious state of press freedom in China. Earlier this month, Deng Yuwen, an editor at an influential Communist Party journal, was suspended after publishing a column in Britain's Financial Times that questioned China's "outdated" alliance with North Korea. Last month, a group of unidentified men beat TVB's Tam Wing-man and Now TV's Wong Kim-fai in Beijing as they were filming an activist's attempt to visit Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is under house arrest at her apartment building. The journalists are from Hong Kong and their treatment on the mainland aroused anger in the special administrative region.

Also last month, Kerry's State Department recognized Tibetan blogger Woeser, who documents arrests and self-immolations in protest of China's rule, with its International Women of Courage Award. Woeser, who has been consistently denied a passport by Beijing, was not able to travel to Washington to accept it, news reports said.

Kerry--whose travel in the region will focus on North Korea--must not downplay China's record on human rights and freedom of expression like his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did last year. Kerry should challenge China to play a responsible role in the world by respecting journalists' rights.  

Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Freedom House, highlighted this sentiment in a recent letter to Kerry, and expressed their fear that accountability on human rights has been sacrificed as Washington seeks Beijing's support on North Korea and pursues greater economic cooperation with China. 

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