China’s expulsion of a Wall Street Journal reporter reveals its totalitarian instincts

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It’s no secret China has a censorship problem.

Just this week, the communist regime effectively expelled a Wall Street Journal reporter after he wrote an in-depth story detailing allegations against Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s cousin, who is under investigation in Australia for potential money laundering.

Chun Han Wong, a Singapore national who has worked for the Journal since 2014, applied to renew his press credentials late last month, but the Chinese government informed the Journal it would not grant Wong’s visa, one month after Wong co-authored the report about Ming Chai, a naturalized Australian blood relative of Xi. Wong has until Friday to exit the country.

The government did not give the paper an explanation, but later told the Washington Post it would not tolerate reporters who hurt its reputation. And as the Post notes, no subject is more taboo in China than the private wealth and dealings of the Communist Party’s top leaders, “given the chasm between the Communist Party’s ideological rhetoric and the vast, often hidden wealth accrued by elite families since the party turned toward state capitalism in the 1980s.”

Before the Journal published Wong’s report, Chinese ministry officials warned that if it continued to write about Xi’s private life, the paper would face unspecified but serious consequences.

“We firmly oppose that a few foreign reporters are maliciously tarnishing China, and we don’t welcome such reporters,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Given Xi’s public image as a leader willing to wage war against party corruption, it’s no wonder he wouldn’t want his own relative’s cronyism connected back to him. But the party’s routine expulsion of journalists, combined with Xi’s consolidation of power, signals a return to a more authoritarian era in China.

China’s relationship with the press has always been marked by tension, but it is growing worse. Multiple journalists have been banned from the country, such as BuzzFeed News reporter Megha Rajagopalan, who has detailed the regime’s routine detention of Muslims in the country’s western Xinjiang region. Entire news agencies have also been blocked, such as Bloomberg News in 2012 when it published a report disclosing the Xi family’s investments.

Until now, China’s censorship has had little effect on the outside world. For the most part, its suppression has remained an internal matter. Xi has limited access to information in his own country, slowly strengthening its grip on the everyday lives of its citizens. Social media is monitored, and internet firewalls prevent users from accessing foreign reporting about the inner workings of China’s Communist Party, unless they have access to a working VPN.

But authoritarianism is impossible to contain. If Xi’s antics continue to progress, the foreign press in China will become obsolete, and China’s citizens will lose all access to the outside world. It seems Xi is taking notes from his next door neighbor, Kim Jong Un.

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