Date: January 01 2013
AN AUSTRALIAN journalist with The New York Times has been expelled from China in an apparent act of retaliation for a news report about the family wealth of the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.
After 15 years in China, including 12 as a reporter, Chris Buckley flew out of Beijing at 6.30pm on Monday with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, after authorities declined to renew his annual media accreditation and residence visa.
His expulsion followed an October 25 investigative report by a colleague at The New York Times that revealed Mr Wen's close relatives had acquired at least $2.7 billion in assets.
Fairfax understands that Buckley, who rejoined The New York Times in October after a stint at Reuters, has received no official explanation of why his application has not been accepted after a delay of more than two months.
Buckley's treatment raises concerns about bilateral reciprocity, given reporters and propaganda workers from Chinese state media are given unimpeded access to Australia and the US.
It also illustrates the challenge facing the new leader, Xi Jinping.
Mr Xi has repeatedly warned that corruption threatens the Communist Party's existence but has not yet shown he is prepared to allow the media ''sunlight'' that analysts say is required to redress the problem.
The New York Times report on Mr Wen was one of a series of damaging foreign media reports about how leading Communist Party families have acquired enormous wealth despite their professed socialist ideals.
Bloomberg, the business news service, has been blocked in China since revealing on June 29 that close relatives of Mr Xi had quietly accrued assets that tally up to more than $1 billion.
Within hours of the report in The New York Times on October 25, Chinese authorities blocked the newspaper's English and Chinese language websites, the latter established months earlier.
American citizen Phil Pan has also failed to receive a journalist visa that would enable him to take up his appointment as Beijing Bureau chief.
"I regret that Chris Buckley has been forced to relocate outside of China despite our repeated requests to renew his journalist visa," said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times.
Ms Abramson said she hoped Buckley and his family would be allowed to return to Beijing and Mr Pan would be issued a visa to take up his post.
Buckley earned a reputation in China for balance and rigour.
''This kind of thing is simply a disaster,'' a leading Chinese media commentator, Michael Anti, wrote on his Weibo social media account.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials regularly invited Buckley to ask questions at regular press conferences. On March 14, at the annual National People's Congress press conference, Buckley asked the question that led Mr Wen to presage the demise of Politburo member Bo Xilai and link Mr Bo's behaviour to an absence of checks on power.
One of several Chinese security officials tasked with shadowing Buckley's movements told Fairfax that keeping track of his conversations had been a ''headache'', citing the politically sensitive nature of his reports and the volume of his interviews.
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