A New York Times journalist, who has worked in China over a decade, has been forced to leave the country after his visa was not renewed, in an apparent retaliation for the paper's report that alleged Premier Wen Jiabao's family had amassed USD 2.7 billion in assets.
45-year-old Chris Buckley, an Australian who has worked as a correspondent in China since 2000 and joined The Times recently, left for Hong Kong with his family yesterday.
Buckley was to be accredited to replace a correspondent who was reassigned, but the Chinese authorities did not act before December 31, despite numerous requests forcing Buckley to leave with his family to Hong Kong, the Times reported.
Besides Buckley's visa, China has also kept on hold new Beijing bureau chief Philip P Pan's accreditation, the report said adding Pan applied in March, but his visa has not been processed.
In a statement, The Times urged the authorities to process Buckley's visa as quickly as possible so that he and his family could return to Beijing.
"I hope the Chinese authorities will issue him a new visa as soon as possible and allow Chris and his family to return to Beijing," Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The Times, said in the statement.
"I also hope that Phil Pan, whose application for journalist credentials has been pending for months, will also be issued a visa to serve as our bureau chief in Beijing."
Times believe that the problems relating to the visas of its journalists to its news report on Wen.
Ahead of the last November once-in-a-decade leadership change conference of the Communist Party, Times carried a news report stating that Wen's family had accumulated USD 2.7 billion assets which included successful business by Premier's wife Zhang Peili, a geologist turned successful businesswoman in diamonds.
"The visa troubles come amid government pressure on the foreign news media over investigations into the finances of senior Chinese leaders, a delicate subject. Corruption is widely reported in China, but top leaders are considered off limits," the Times said in its report.
China officially termed the report as a "smear" aimed at discrediting the leadership.
Wen's family denied the report and threatened to take legal action, which Times said will face it.
Subsequently the English and Chinese language websites of the Times were blocked China.
Also the English-language site of Bloomberg News were blocked by firewalls after it published reports of accumulation of assets by Vice President Xi Jinping, who was elected as the new General Secretary of the Party replacing Hu Jintao.
Chinese financial institutions say they have been instructed by officials not to buy Bloomberg's computer terminals, a lucrative source of income for the company, the Times report said.
According to the daily Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have not said if they are linking Buckley's visa renewal or Pan's press accreditation to the newspaper's coverage of China.
The Times has six other accredited correspondents in China, and their visas were renewed for 2013 in a timely manner.
Significantly China has renewed the visa of David Barboza, the Shanghai bureau chief of Times who wrote the articles about Wen's family.
This is second such incident in recent times a foreign journalist was denied visa in China. Earlier, Melissa Chan of Aljazeera was denied visa reportedly due to her critical reporting.