A Chinese triangle: freedom of the press is a double-edged sword - editorial

The Post is happy to give a voice to China, but we will not kowtow to threats or bullying that attempt to stifle the honest dissemination of information.

China flag  (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ECOW)
China flag
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ECOW)

It’s the job and duty of any media outlet to report the news as objectively and freely as possible, without the interference and influence of any external vested interests.

Such interference represents a stark threat to the freedom of the press to perform its tasks effectively: to inform the public and allow them to arrive at their own conclusions on a particular subject.

Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post featured an interview editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz conducted with Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. In the article, Wu warned Israel that it was relying too much on China, and that Beijing was preparing to invade Taiwan.

“China is an authoritarian country and they do business in a very different philosophy,” Wu told the Post in a video interview from his office in Taipei. “Sometimes they use trade as a weapon, and we have seen them practicing their weaponized trade relations with many other countries.” 

The article was timely, given the current Russian invasion of Ukraine and the constant threat that Taiwan faces from its much larger and belligerent neighbor.

Soon after the story was posted on JPost.com on Monday evening, Katz received a phone call from a top diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Israel criticizing its publication and calling for its immediate deletion. Even more, the diplomat threatened that if the interview with Wu was not removed, China would sever ties with The Jerusalem Post and the Post’s decision would undermine Israeli-Chinese relations. 

Katz rightfully thanked the diplomat for his call and responded that the Post had no intention of removing the story and was printing it in Tuesday’s paper on the front page.

The Post's history with the Chinese Embassy

This was not the first time the Chinese Embassy has tried to throw its weight around when the Post published an article that wasn’t to its liking.

In response to a May 10 op-ed on events in Xinjiang Province, the embassy wrote a letter criticizing the publication of an “anti-China article written by a ‘Xinjiang independence’ separatist.”

The Post acknowledges that Israel’s bilateral ties with China and with Taiwan are very complicated, and issues related to it must be handled with sensitivity.

The tense situation between Israel, China and Taiwan

That is why the government is constantly walking a tightrope over concern that overt diplomatic ties with Taiwan will upset China, one of Israel’s largest trading partners. Earlier this month, for example, the Foreign Ministry reportedly ordered Israeli diplomats stationed around the world to refrain from inviting Taiwanese officials to Israeli events, or from participating in events organized by Taiwanese diplomats.

Another sign of the sensitivity is that Wu cannot visit Israel in his official government capacity. In addition, Taiwan’s top diplomat based in Israel – Ya-Ping (“Abby”) Lee – is referred to as a “representative” and not as an ambassador.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics issued a report in January showing that in 2021, China became Israel’s largest source of imports, surpassing even the United States.

Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and China’s Vice President, Wang Qishan, led a joint Israel-China committee on innovation cooperation, in which they agreed to a three-year plan to regulate cooperation between the countries and government-to-government dialogue through 2024.

Cooperation with China has raised the ire of the United States, which has cautioned Israel about cozying up too closely to Beijing. As reported by Calcalist, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman gave a lecture last year in which he also cautioned against too-close cooperation with China. 

“The Chinese influence in Israel is dangerous, especially with regard to strategic infrastructure and investments in large companies,” he said. “Legislation is needed to oversee Chinese investment. That could be very dangerous.”

Taiwan is eager to advance ties with Israel. Giving a voice to the democratic island-nation and its attempts to survive in the looming shadow of China is the right and moral thing to do. 

The Post will continue to bring those stories to its readers and to conduct interviews with newsmakers like Minister Wu. We are also happy to give a voice to China, but we will not kowtow to threats or bullying that attempt to stifle the honest dissemination of information.