CHINA - The Chinese authorities are holding up the visa renewals of nearly two dozen foreign journalists from The New York Times and Bloomberg, raising the spectre of a possible shutdown of news operations in China for the two American media organisations.
While Beijing has previously delayed or denied visas to individual journalists as reprisals for reporting that displeased it, it has hardened its tactics this time by targeting the entire roster of foreign journalists at the two outlets.
The latest hold-ups are part of an increasing use of visa delays or denials by the Chinese authorities, "in an apparent effort to influence journalists' coverage", said the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China in a year-end statement Monday that highlighted negative trends in reporting conditions in China.
Since publishing articles about the finances of then Premier Wen Jiabao's family members last year, The New York Times newspaper has been unable to obtain resident journalist visas for its bureau chief, Mr Philip Pan, who has been waiting for more than 18 months, or correspondent Chris Buckley, who has been waiting for a year - and now works out of Hong Kong - it added.
Also last year, Bloomberg ran articles about the wealth of current President Xi Jinping's family. Both its and The New York Times' websites were blocked in China and sales of Bloomberg's data terminals were also hit.
But the hardball tactics against the two media organisations have worsened this year.
The affected journalists will have to leave China if their visas are not renewed by the month's end, prompting visiting US Vice-President Joe Biden to intercede on their behalf when he met Mr Xi last week.