Chinese Premier Li Keqiang amused Filipino reporters when he said China's doors are open to Philippine media.
Li, who was on an official visit to the Phiippines, said this in his joint statement with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang on Wednesday, November 15,
"We welcome more Philippine press to come to China to cover today's events," declared Li to a room full of Chinese and Filipino reporters, particularly members of the Malacañang Press Corps.
He even had a story pitch for Filipino journalists planning a visit to his country.
Li invited them to make their "historic contributions" by "covering the stories about how our two countries are working together to seize the opportunity of the day and usher in a new chapter in China-Philippine relations."
He ended his speech with a message, not to Duterte or to the Philippine government in general, but to Filipino journalists.
"Chinese are open to the Philippine media and press," Li said, to applause.
The invitation is notable given China's less than desirable record on protecting freedom of speech and of the press.
Press freedom watchdog Freedom House described China as "home to one of the world’s most restrictive media environments and its most sophisticated system of censorship."
The ruling Chinese Communist Party controls much of news reportage since it owns most of the media organizations, accredits journalists, and metes out punishment to critical reporters.
By the end of 2016, 39 journalists were jailed in China.
The Chinese government also blocks websites, bans certain apps, and engages in mass deletion of blog posts, messages, and user accounts that touch on topics they deem undesirable or sensitive.
China is particularly harsh on foreign press, especially Western media organizations it considers "anti-China."
Just last month, in October, several prominent Western media outlets like The Guardian, New York Times, Economist, and the BBC were barred, at the last minute, from entering an important event about the CCP's new slate of leaders.
Protesting the move, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, issued a statement saying, "Using media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom.
With Premier Li's invitation, can Filipino journalists expect better treatment than their Western counterparts? Or will this warm reception be reserved for those who write "good" news about Philippines-China ties?
After the speech, one practical-minded reporter jokingly wondered out loud: do Li's remarks mean Filipino journalists can visit China visa-free? – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.