Chinese officials denied entry to local and international media who had been invited to cover Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Pacific Island leaders in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Nov. 18.
Xi Jinping hosted a working dinner with leaders of eight Pacific Island nations that are in agreement to Beijing’s “One China” policy—Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
When reporters arrived at the hotel where the meeting was being held, Chinese officials told them to leave.
The Australian Broadcasting Network (ABC), one of the invited media, said that a local security officer also threatened an ABC camera operator who had been filming as the press were denied entry.
The ABC was among other local media that had registered through the PNG Government to cover Xi’s visit, and had been issued with special passes in advance.
The meeting comes as multiple countries are seeking to influence the Pacific region.
“Xi is not going to show up empty-handed … Almost a full third of Taiwan’s remaining support base is in the Pacific islands region. Chequebook diplomacy is alive and well in this part of the world,” Jonathan Pryke from the Australian think tank The Lowy Institute, commented prior to the meeting, AFP reported.
“[Mainland] China has been much more aggressive in picking off Taiwan’s support base,” Pryke said.
One reporter of the Post Courier newspaper recounted the Nov. 16 incident.
“I said ‘We are here to cover the meeting, our names have been submitted,’ and they said ‘No, all of you get out,’” Gorethy Kenneth said, according to the ABC. “That’s when it all got fired up.”
However, he noted that Chinese state media were allowed entry.
Some local media in Papua New Guinea described the treatment as a “slap in the face,” the ABC reported.
“To be told that we’re not allowed is undermining our press freedom. We have press freedom in this country,” Helen Tarawa Rei, a senior reporter of PNG’s The National newspaper, told the ABC.
“It’s quite disappointment because as Pacific Islanders, for a meeting as big as this, and PNG being the host country, we were all looking forward to covering this,” she said.
“We were quite surprised because we want to hear a lot of the things that are happening there with the Pacific Islander leaders, out Prime Minister and the Chinese President, and unfortunately we weren’t allowed and we’re just wondering why,” she added.
Tarawa Wei said the dinner was not the first time in Xi’s visit to PNG that media access has been tightly controlled. She recounted the stringent restrictions at a Port Moresby road opening ceremony in October where only China’s CCTV was granted access to cover the speeches.
“We were told not to record, not to put our recorders or mobile phones near the speaker,” she said.
In another incident in October, media that had been invited to film the arrival of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Port Moresby’s airport were shuffled away. They included the ABC and local station NBC.