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A Buried Lede: Chinese Security Forces Assault Los Angeles Times Reporter

Chinese servicemen walk past portraits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as they patrol a street near the Great Hall of the People on the opening day of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, China, May 22, 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Beijing’s plan to impose a “bilingual education” program on Inner Mongolia has unsurprisingly elicited comparisons to its treatment of Tibet and Xinjiang, where a cultural homogenization drive has taken the form of brutal crackdowns. In recent days, Mongols have protested the policy, marching in opposition to it, and drawing a response by security forces, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times. Undoubtedly, it’s a big story, and because the autonomous region isn’t yet as severely locked down as, say, Xinjiang is, reporters have seized the opportunity to get to the heart of the story.

But the Times’ Alice Su, reporting from the region, might have buried the lede here, which appears close to the end of the story:

A Times reporter who visited the Mongol school in Hohhot was surrounded by plainclothes men who put her into a police car. They took her to the back building of a police station, where she was interrogated and separated from her belongings despite identifying herself as an accredited journalist. She was not allowed to call the U.S. Embassy; one officer grabbed her throat with both hands and pushed her into a cell.

The reporter was detained for more than four hours. She was then forced to leave the region, with three government officials and a policeman accompanying her to a train and standing at the window until the train left for Beijing.

The demonstrations and police response are, of course, significant events deserving of considerable attention. So too is the assault of an American reporter who was held in custody for committing no crime at all. Su’s treatment is a diplomatic incident with far-reaching consequences, in light of the Trump administration’s drive to achieve reciprocity in its diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communist Party-state.

In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reduced the number of staff allotted to Chinese state-owned media outlets in the United States. Beijing has, he explained, “imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China.” The Chinese government responded in kind, using the move as a pretext for expelling virtually all reporters from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. There’s been a lot of talk about supply-chain decoupling in recent months — most of which is, frankly, political posturing — but a sort of information decoupling is already underway.

The most recent part of the reciprocity drive came on Wednesday, when Pompeo announced that Chinese diplomats would be required to seek State Department approval to visit universities and meet with local government officials. Following Su’s arrest and assault, it’s safe to assume that more such measures are on the way. It’s unlikely that the Trump administration will let this incident go unanswered.

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