Beijing Stops the Presses

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Authorities in Beijing last week moved to close a publication that covers foreign aid and nongovernmental organizations, its founder said today. Nick Young, a British national who established the China Development Brief in 1996, says the newsletter’s Chinese-language edition was ordered to cease publishing and he faces possible deportation. “My hope is that these actions have been precipitated by zealous security officers,” he says, “and that more senior figures in the government and Communist Party will realize that actions of this kind are not in China’s best interest.”

Young says officials from Beijing’s municipal Public Security Bureau and the Statistical Bureau visited the China Development Brief’s offices on July 4. The Chinese-language edition was ordered closed for being “an illegal publication.” Young, who edits the English-language edition, was accused of conducting “illegal surveys” while collecting information for the publication. He faces possible deportation and a 5-year ban from China. “Any foreign person asking any Chinese person information is conducting unauthorized surveys,” he says. “My interpretation is they are looking for a small, technical means to close us down.” (Young agreed to talk about the closure after the news leaked in an email discussion group.)

The move comes as China is working to be more open ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In December the government announced that it was lifting restrictions on travel and coverage by foreign journalists. That was a dramatic change for a country where information is still tightly controlled. Following the enactment of the new rules, foreign correspondents who conducted interviews with controversial political figures found limited obstructions. But the China Development Brief case marks a jarring reverse of that opening trend.

One irony of the moves against the publication is that the China Development Brief, whose motto is “to enhance constructive engagement between China and the world,” has editorialized against what Young describes as “more or less openly hostile” Western criticism of China. “I do consider myself to be friend of China,” he says. “I think it’s a serious problem if the state cannot distinguish between friends and enemies.”