SAN FRANCISCO—Paul Mooney is one of those genuine journalists of the old-school—he focuses on people, the stories they need to know, and the stories they have to tell. After covering China for 18 years and having won multiple awards for his work, he has been refused a visa to return as a reporter for Reuters.
Sitting down with the Epoch Times in Berkeley, California, Mooney opened up on why the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Ministry of Foreign Affairs won’t let him into China. He also told some stories he reported on that will break your heart, the kind of stories the CCP doesn’t want people to hear. His gift for telling those stories is why he was not allowed back in the country.
“I focus a lot on human rights and social justice. I reported on Tibet, Xinjiang, and these are sensitive topics in China. I’m sure the government wasn’t happy with the reporting I did.”
He says it’s not so bad for him, though. The real heroes are the Chinese reporters. “I have a great amount of respect for the Chinese journalists trying to do those stories (blocked by the CCP). There’s a great risk for them, they’ll lose their jobs, and some have even gone to jail. I have no hope in the CCP, but I do in those reporters.”
Chinese Consulate Warns Him
The Chinese regime over the last year has tightened its already firm grip on media, and many foreign journalists like Mooney are getting squeezed out. The Reporters Without Borders’ latest analysis map of world freedom of the press has China labeled totally black.
During the eight-month wait to get his visa, Mooney was summoned to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco for his interview. He was asked about his views on Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and high profile human rights lawyers. He answered frankly that he didn’t think they were a threat to China. His interviewer warned him that if he wanted the visa he would have to report more “objectively.” “It was obviously a threat,” Mooney said.
“As a journalist I was always objective, I never injected my own opinion in any of those stories. I reported the same way in China as I would have in the U.S. That’s something the Chinese government doesn’t understand. They say that the Western media has it in for China. But that’s not true.”
One issue Mooney has to face as a reporter on China is the accusations that he is anti-China. He hears the CCP say it, but also hears the notion coming from Westerners, too.
“I think they thought I was anti-China. But I am actually very pro-China. The people that I interviewed, they never once called me anti-China. If the communist party doesn’t like the truth, that’s their problem.
“I felt like I was giving a voice to the people who had none, and I’ve even stayed in touch with many of the people I reported on. I’ve helped people get medicine from the U.S., and people get doctors who need surgery. I stay in touch on Skype. These people know there’s no hope for them also, but the fact that somebody cares means a lot to them.”
A report in Business Insider pointed out that it was after the 2008 Beijing Olympics that the CCP quit being so accommodating to foreign journalists. With the pressure off to appease the rest of the world, Mooney said he’s never seen so many foreign reporters waiting for visas.
“If you look at the reporting from South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, from Indonesia, Malaysia, from Latin America, they all report the same problems. The Chinese [propaganda] succeeds by saying America is out to stop China, but really the U.S. government and U.S. citizens do so much for Chinese people,” Mooney said.
“Countless NGO’s go into China. And for the Chinese students we have open schools and campuses in the U.S. If the U.S. really wanted to keep China down they wouldn’t do these things. But you don’t see those things reported in the People’s Daily or China Daily, we always hear that America’s out to stop them, that kind of slant.”
Mooney doesn’t think the situation for journalists will improve in China without reciprocal pressure from foreign countries. The United States should take the same restrictive approach to giving Chinese reporters visas.
“I’d like the American government to say, OK, if you’re not approving visas for American journalists, we are going to stop approving visas for Chinese journalists. China has more that 700 correspondents in the United States. We don’t delay their visas; we don’t refuse them in most cases. We don’t harass or follow them, or have the police intimidate them, and we don’t beat them up.”
“Chinese correspondents have free rein in the U.S., and some of them are even spies. I guarantee that if we start denying visas, within two weeks they’ll start granting visas for American journalists again, but right now there are no repercussions for them.”
Mooney explained that the rest of the world is afraid to put pressure on China in case they lose business and trade opportunities, but what they don’t realize is that China needs the rest of the world just as badly, and so pressure will work.
Reporting Injustice Is Pro-China
“One story I wrote about was kidnapped rural children. Young boys kidnapped and forced to work in black kilns—illegal brick kilns where they were kept like slaves.
“A few years ago a lot of young teenagers started disappearing. They came from Henan [Province] to Zhengzhou [Henan’s capital] looking for work. So I went out with a group of about nine parents for about a week, and stayed with these families while they drove around these out-of-the-way places looking for their kids, and it was incredibly sad. They cried all the time.”
Mooney said some Chinese reporters did briefly cover these stories, but it didn’t last long.
“The people I helped put hope in me, but in my experience there is very little reaction from government,” Mooney said. “One father told me the police had done nothing to help find the children.”
Mooney recounted one story about a boy who escaped a kiln, and went to the Labor Bureau for help, only to be sold back to the kiln by one of the officials, then sold again by the same official to another kiln, for 600 yuan (US$98).
“I also did stories on cancer villages. I went to one village in Hunan Province with a battery factory. A lot of people started getting sick, so the government sent in doctors to test them, when they found out 1,000 people were poisoned with cadmium in their blood, they stopped all testing.
“The factory didn’t have any equipment to deal with the waste. The battery industry is a heavy metal polluter. They bribed local environmental officials to give them certificates; they were working with local government and local gangs. They pumped the waste water into the village river.”
The water, rice, and produce were all contaminated.
“One little girl died from cadmium poisoning. The eighty-year old grandma fell to her knees crying, and her mother bent down and was crying too, when they looked up and saw me crying they were shocked for a moment, then they just started howling even louder. It was heartbreaking.”
The father spent 90,000 yuan (US$14,770) to try to save her. Everyone else in the village was too scared to even talk to Mooney about the situation.
“I reported on this story because I hoped the government would compensate these people.”
Mooney hoped his reporting could help Chinese people, and therefore sees himself as pro-China, but in the end, “It was writing about these things that got me into trouble.”
Mooney explained that there are about 400 cancer villages in southern China. The rivers are all polluted with heavy metals. He hasn’t seen the CCP do anything about it.
“They talk a lot, but no action. The government sides with the local business and local officials, so they’re making money. The Communist Party’s face is much more important than the well-being of the Chinese people. So in the end, it is the Chinese people who always pay the price.”
‘Mean and Ruthless’
Mooney started to get interested in China in the 70s. Like many Americans at the time, he was fascinated with Chinese communism. But all that changed. “As a human being, one cannot imagine or understand the behavior of the CCP.”
He realized that many Chinese might not like what he says. “I think a lot of people, Chinese and Western, are duped by the CCP propaganda news. A lot of it is so positive, you never get the real picture of China.”
Mooney points out that the communists are harming the Chinese far deeper than the Japanese ever did.
“360,000 kids got sick on melamine poisoned baby formula. The story was blocked because the communist party wouldn’t allow any negative news leading up to the Olympics to save face.”
Another example: “A Chinese reporter had her story about high-speed train safety blocked. A year later a big accident happened. This is a government that is willing to let the Chinese people get poisoned, injured, or killed rather than lose face.”
“There is going to be a huge problem with lung cancer due to all the severe pollution. So it looks like a modern society but it’s really just a façade.”
“The communist party is really mean and ruthless. Regarding all the problems in society, unless the CCP feels there is a serious threat to their authority, they won’t do anything. So I anticipate that things will get much, much worse before the government responds and takes any action on these issues. I feel no hope.”