TAIPEI, Taiwan—The nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the Chinese embassy in India for violating India’s press freedoms after the embassy sent a letter to Indian media instructing them on how to cover Taiwan’s upcoming National Day celebration.
The self-ruled island celebrates National Day every year on Oct. 10, which marks the start of the Wuchang Uprising in 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty emperor and established a republican form of government.
That government, the Republic of China (ROC), retreated to Taiwan after losing to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the Chinese Civil War. Today, Taiwan is officially known as the ROC.
Meanwhile, the CCP established a regime called the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the mainland, which views Taiwan as a renegade province that should come under its fold one day.
Beijing has put pressure on governments and international organizations to recognize its “One-China principle,” under which it claims sovereignty over Taiwan despite the fact that the island is a de-facto independent country with its own democratically elected officials, military, and currency.
Indian media received copies of a letter drafted by the Chinese embassy in India, in which it sought to “remind our media friends” that they should not “violate the One-China principle” when reporting about Taiwan’s National Day.
The letter asked that they not refer to Taiwan as either a country or nation, nor to Taiwan’s top official as “president”—“so as not to send the wrong signals to the general public.”
Head of RSF’s East Asian Bureau Cédric Alviani condemned the embassy’s actions.
“This is unacceptable in any case that an ambassador would tell the media of the country he is posted in what they should write or not write, or how they should write it,” Alviani said in a phone interview.
“We are calling on the Indian authorities, we are calling on the Indian government, to firmly remind the Chinese ambassador about his role as an ambassador, and about the limits that a diplomatic position imposes, because it is not acceptable that they would engage in such behavior.”
The letter evoked outrage in both Taiwan and India.
“#India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship,” wrote Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu on Twitter.
“#Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!”
Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, took to his Twitter account to say the letter represented “China’s open assault on press freedom.”
“When free press is in jeopardy, all other freedoms are under attack,” Wang said.
In a Twitter post, Yusuf Unjhawala, an editor at the Indian discussion forum Defence Forum India, used all the words the Chinese embassy warned about, to “convey … best wishes” to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and the people of Taiwan. He also tagged the Chinese ambassador to India, a position currently held by Sun Weidong, in his tweet.
The Chinese embassy’s letter came on the heels of two of India’s national newspapers, The Indian Express and The Statesman, carrying an advertorial paid for by the Taiwan government. The ad promoted a 30-minute program about Taiwan’s National Day that aired on local Indian broadcaster Wion on Oct. 7.
Alviani said such “blatant disregard to freedom of press” from the Chinese embassy isn’t surprising, since there have been similar incidents in both France and Sweden.
Since February, Chinese ambassadors have attacked international media over its critical coverage of Beijing’s response to the pandemic.
On April 14, the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, was summoned by the French foreign ministry over “posts on the embassy website and Twitter account defaming French healthcare personnel,” according to a RSF statement at the time.
“Certain publicly voiced opinions by representatives of the Chinese embassy in France are not in line with the quality of the bilateral relation between our two countries,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement after his meeting with Lu, according to Reuters.
On April 12, the Chinese embassy in France published an article titled “Restoring distorted facts—Observations of a Chinese diplomat posted to Paris,” suggesting that caretakers at nursing homes in France had abandoned their jobs, leaving residents to die of hunger and COVID-19.
The article was published just days after France’s virus death toll rose from 8,911 to 10,328 in a single day, according to local media France 24, with many deaths occurring at nursing homes.
A month prior to the French incident, the U.S. State Department summoned China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, over comments by Chinese officials suggesting on Twitter that the U.S. military brought the virus to the Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic.
Alviani urged Indian media to “keep doing their work as usual and not give in to this attempt to put pressure.”
“The Indian media are not working for China, they are working for the Indian public. And the Indian public needs—just like every public on Earth—accurate and independent information, including [on the] Taiwan–China cross-strait relationship,” Alviani said.
“There is no point in the Chinese embassy … trying to intimidate them.”