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Al Jazeera shuts China bureau following journalist's expulsion

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MUMBAI: Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera has closed down its Beijing bureau following the Chinese government's refusal to to renew the press credentials and visa of Melissa Chan, its sole correspondent, and allow a replacement journalist.

Expressing disappointment at the Chinese government's decision, Al Jazeera English said it has been requesting additional visas for correspondents for some time and which has not been obliged with.

The news broadcaster said it will continue to work with Chinese authorities to re-open the Beijing bureau.

Al Jazeera said Melissa Chan, who has been Al Jazeera English’s China correspondent since 2007, has filed nearly 400 reports covering stories about the economy, domestic politics, foreign policy, the environment, social justice, labour rights and human rights.

Al Jazeera English Director Salah Negm said, "We've been doing a first class job at covering all stories in China. Our editorial DNA includes covering all stories from all sides. We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in world.

"We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism. We value this journalist integrity in our coverage of all countries in the world. We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China news services cover the world freely we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist."

The ruling Communist party in China, which has long been known as hostile to international media, has found itself to be at loggerheads with foreign media many times.

The Communist party has been giving state broadcaster CCTV and the official Xinhua News Agency a major push into foreign language media in a bid to spread its own pro-China take on domestic and international events.

The move "seems to be taking China's anti-media policies to a new level," said Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia coordinator Bob Dietz in a statement.

According to Dietz, Chan's case "marks a real deterioration in China's media environment and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted".

The last time a journalist was expelled was when a German and a Japanese reporter were expelled in late 1998.

According to Associated Press, Chan has left China for California, where she will be taking up a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.

China had pledged to relax restrictions on foreign journalists as part of its hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, but changes have been minor and conditions have in some ways grown even more hostile.

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