John Sudworth, China correspondent for the BBC, has left the Chinese mainland and relocated to Taiwan. His move follows mounting East-West tension over Xinjiang and Hong Kong and accusations that the BBC in particular has defamed China.
Sudworth’s move was announced Wednesday by the BBC in a Twitter message. “Our correspondent John Sudworth has relocated from Beijing to Taiwan. John’s works has exposed truths that the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know. The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent,” the message said.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) March 31, 2021
Chinese state media was quick to publish multiple reports about Sudworth. “BBC reporter John Sudworth left Chinese mainland without giving any reasons, Chinese (foreign ministry) said, calling his leave ‘abnormal.’ FM said they only learned about Sudworth’s departure when his press credential was awaiting renewal, adding Sudworth did not go through required formalities for foreign correspondents,” said state tabloid The Global Times.
(“Sudworth) who became infamous in China for his many biased stories distorting China’s Xinjiang policies and COVID-19 responses, has left the Chinese mainland and is now believed to be hiding in Taiwan island after Xinjiang individuals said they plan to sue BBC for fake news,” the paper continued in another report. “From stigmatizing China as being the origin of the novel coronavirus to claiming Xinjiang’s cotton was ‘tainted,’ Sudworth has participated in many of BBC’s notorious reports attacking China in recent years.”
Beijing took the BBC World News TV service off air in February, in what appeared to be both a retaliatory move against the removal of CGTN’s broadcast license in the U.K. and mounting international attention on Xinjiang, where China is accused of grave human rights breaches against its Uighur Muslim population.
The BBC published a report in February that women in Xinjiang’s internment camps for Uighurs were subject to rape, sexual abuse and torture. Sudworth was not part of that report.
Sudworth himself has said little since leaving mainland China, though some unverified sources have quoted him as saying: “In recent months, the pressure & threats by the Chinese govt has intensified – massive surveillance, intimidation, wherever & whenever we go .. it’s too risky to carry on.”
“(Sudworth) and his family were followed to the airport and into the check-in area by plainclothes police officers. His wife, Yvonne Murray, is the China correspondent for the Irish public broadcaster RTE,” the BBC said in its own report.
The Reporters Without Borders organization ranked China in 177th place out of 180 countries and territories for the state of its press freedom. Taiwan was the second highest placed Asian jurisdiction, ranking 42nd behind South Korea. Both were ahead of the U.S., which placed 45th.
Taiwan has been self-governed since the end of the civil war in China 1949 and is now one of the most democratically-run places in Asia. China, however, insists that Taiwan is its territory, and a rebellious province with which it will be one day reunited – by force if necessary.
“We welcome all reporters from media outlets to come to Taiwan and enjoy freedom of the press and speech,” Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou, told Reuters.
Several Twitter users reacted to the news of Sudworth’s exit from China with plaudits for his investigative skills and the suggestion that he should next turn his focus on the U.K. government.
The Foreign Correspondent Club of China said that “at least 18” reporters were expelled in the first half of 2020. It recently released a damning report on media conditions in China.
“Chinese authorities dramatically stepped up efforts in 2020 to frustrate the work of foreign correspondents. All arms of state power – including surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus – were used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview,” the FCCC said in its annual report. “For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said working conditions improved. Foreign correspondents were targeted in alleged national security investigations and told they could not leave the country. China canceled press credentials and refused to renew visas, resulting in the largest expulsion of foreign journalists since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre more than three decades ago.”