Canada has banned journalists with China’s official news agency and the Communist Party newspaper from joining Prime Minister Stephen Harper on an Arctic trip, prompting complaints by Chinese reporters who say they are being discriminated against.
The ban comes at a time when relations between the two countries are already strained.
The Canadian government recently accused Chinese hackers of infiltrating the computer systems of Canada’s top research and development organisation, which China denies.
Just a few days later, authorities in China arrested a Canadian couple, who ran a coffee shop in the border city of Dandong, on suspicion of stealing state secrets about military and national defence research. They remain in custody.
The decision not to have reporters for the People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency travel with Harper stems from an incident during last year’s trip to the Arctic, when Li Xuejiang of the People’s Daily pushed former Harper spokeswoman Julie Vaux after she prevented him from asking a question.
Jason MacDonald, chief Harper spokesman, said in an e-mail on Friday from the Arctic that “some media outlets are not welcome on the trip”.
In a telephone interview, Li acknowledged pushing Vaux last year, but said the prime minister’s office discriminated against Chinese journalists by not allowing him to ask a question and later having him manhandled by police.
Li, the bureau chief for the Communist Party newspaper and a former Washington correspondent, said he could not understand why he was silenced. Harper’s staff limits the number of questions at public events.
Li said he did not even apply to go on this year’s trip.
“Why do they discriminate against Chinese journalists? For racial reasons?” he said. “They didn’t give me any reason.”
Xinhua News Agency reporter Baodong Li said he applied but was told he could not go because of a lack of space. He does not understand why he was banned.
“This is really ridiculous. This is not just against Mr Li of the People’s Daily, it’s also against all the Chinese journalists,” Baodong said. “It has nothing to do with me.”
Li and Baodong said they are considering issuing a complaint with the Ottawa press gallery.
David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, said journalists in China can be quite aggressive, and have been for some time.
“I was once in a melee as they stampeded into a meeting room to get a photo of then-president Jiang Zemin. I believe that journalism is one of those critical aspects of Chinese society that is changing slowly but steadily,” Mulroney said in an e-mail.