During Merkel’s visit, some journalists were to remain outside. The situation was defused. But the Hong Kong issue makes China nervous.
As long as the economy is running! Merkel seeks press freedom in the Great Hall of the People Photo: reuters
It almost happened: Some German journalists* were to be denied access to the press conference with Angela Merkel and Li Keqiang in Beijing. The German government has since described the situation as defused. But the case raises the question of how China reacts to the foreign press in times of Hong Kong protests.
The chancellor had visited the Chinese capital on Friday and met Premier Li Keqiang there. In this context, Merkel had been unexpectedly clear in her assessment of the protests in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. She welcomed the fact that the Hong Kong government had shortly before acceded to the demonstrators’ demands and had withdrawn the controversial extradition agreement with Mainland China. She also expressed her hope that Hong Kong activists would be able to participate in the dialogue "within the framework of civil liberties" in the future.
Friday’s schedule had apparently been originally planned so that Merkel, after being greeted with military honors, would speak confidentially with the prime minister and then appear before the press with him in the Great Hall of the People. The Great Hall of the People is a congress building used by the Chinese government for occasions of national importance, such as state visits, in addition to Communist Party congresses.
According to news agencies, however, some journalists were excluded at short notice from the agenda item in the Great Hall. This concerned the resident German and international journalists*innen, as dpa and AFP reported on Friday. Only Chinese reporters and accompanying journalists were initially to be granted access to the Great Hall, which was justified by the Chinese side with limited capacity. However, the Great Hall of the People has more than 10,000 seats.
The chancellor’s visit, although scheduled for understanding on trade and economic relations, came in the midst of conflict between Hong Kong protesters and the government of the former British Crown Colony. The Communist Party government of the People’s Republic had not previously been in the position of having to comment publicly and unprepared on the protests. It is possible that the Chinese side therefore tried to avoid such a situation on Friday by keeping the number of journalists small.
From the German government’s point of view, the matter has cleared up by itself. The "irritations", as the situation was called in the meantime, had disappeared in the course of the day, when four more German journalists were finally admitted. A government spokesman told the taz on Monday: "All German journalists who took part in the welcome ceremony were ultimately also given access to the press conference." The spokesman did not comment in detail. In the meantime, it was said from correspondent circles that there had been longer negotiations.
With that, however, apparently not all journalists were in the Great Hall in the end, who would have had a legitimate interest. According to taz information, some journalists had not even come to the ceremony after the short notice because they did not expect to be admitted to the press event afterwards. In addition, each journalist who was ultimately admitted was only allowed one question each, the dpa said.
Usually, during state visits, it is up to the host country to admit or exclude the press to certain appointments according to its own rules and customs. In this case, the host country can only try in the background to influence in favor of free reporting.
Nevertheless, dpa described the matter as a "unique event." Criticism of the Chinese government’s actions was also voiced by the German Journalists’ Association and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in China. The associations fear that the Chinese government could further restrict the working conditions of foreign journalists as a result of the Hong Kong protests.