A New York Times reporter was forced to leave China after authorities failed to renew his visa, a move many interpreted as an act of retribution after the paper's reporting on the private wealth of government officials.
Veteran China correspondent Austin Ramzy posted several messages to Twitter before leaving on a flight from the Beijing airport Thursday, saying he was sad to be leaving and hopes to return soon.
Ramzy is the second Times correspondent in 13 months forced to leave mainland China because of failure to receive a visa.
In 2012, the Times published a report detailing the alleged massive wealth accumulated by the family of then-Premier Wen Jiabao.
Beijing responded immediately and angrily, blocking the Times website in China and slamming the paper for having "ulterior motives."
The Times said authorities have also refused to issue new journalist visas to several of its other China reporters.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang this week denied Ramzy was "expelled," saying authorities were simply following Chinese law. Qin said Ramzy did not follow proper visa application procedures last year after leaving Time magazine, his previous employer in China.
The New York Times said it filed a visa application for Ramzy in June, but was not alerted to any problems until December, when his visa was about to expire. Although China offered him a one-month temporary visa, the process was not completed in time, and he was forced to leave.
Many of Ramzy's colleagues in the foreign press, who have also complained of restrictions by Chinese authorities, responded sympathetically.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said in a statement Wednesday it "strongly regrets" Ramzy has been forced to leave. It noted it is "difficult to avoid the conclusion that the authorities are punishing the New York Times for articles it published concerning Wen Jiabao and his family," adding this behavior "falls well short of international standards."
Edward Wong, a New York Times correspondent in Beijing, tweeted Thursday that "China is making futile attempts to influence news coverage by blocking journalist visas and global websites."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last year raised the issue of China's crackdown on Western news media with top Chinese leaders during a visit to Beijing. Since then, China has made some progress on processing dozens of journalist visa applications for foreign reporters.
Although Ramzy was required to leave the country, the Times announced his reporting on China will continue, at least temporarily, from Taiwan.