Tensions between China and the U.K. flared this week after Beijing summoned Britain’s ambassador to China to chastize her for an article she wrote defending the role of independent foreign press in the country.
The latest tussle comes amid a backdrop of strain between the countries over matters such as human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the deteriorating political situation in Hong Kong, and lately, differences on the role of the foreign press. Last month, Beijing banned BBC World News from broadcasting in the country, stating that it had found the station to be “undermining China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity” with biased reporting. That moved hit a week after Britain’s media regulator Ofcom revoked the U.K. broadcast license for China’s state-backed CGTN network after deeming it to be insufficiently editorially independent from Beijing.
The British embassy in Beijing posted an article in Chinese from ambassador Caroline Wilson on its official WeChat social media account last week. In it, she noted that official Chinese state media has recently published an increasing number of reports attacking foreign journalists, including a number accusing them of being “anti-China” or even “China haters” because of their critical coverage.
She countered such reports by arguing that such journalists did not have a particular vendetta against the country, and were instead acting “in good faith” in their role as watchdogs.
Although her article has not as of Thursday been deleted from WeChat, it can no longer be shared or reposted.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s department of European affairs summoned Wilson on Tuesday to issue “stern representations” over the “biased” and “inappropriate” article it said was “full of arrogance.”
“The whole article is full of… ideological prejudice… and is seriously inconsistent with the status of diplomats,” it referenced the department’s head as saying.
On Tuesday, Wilson responded to the situation by tweeting: “I stand by my article. No doubt the outgoing Chinese Ambassador to the U.K. stands by the 170+ pieces he was free to place in mainstream British media.” That diplomat, Liu Xiaoming, was based in Britain for more than a decade but left in January.
The hashtag “#Foreign Affairs Department Summons British Ambassador to China Caroline Wilson” had been viewed 6.8 million times on Weibo as of Thursday evening.