BBC News announced John Sudworth’s relocation on Twitter on Wednesday. While the BBC did not elaborate on the exact reason for the move, it said that “John’s work has exposed the truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know.”
“The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent,” the public service broadcaster said.
Sudworth’s move to Taiwan comes as Beijing repeatedly expresses frustration with BBC reporting on the Chinese region of Xinjiang, where authorities are accused of carrying out human rights abuses on Uyghur and other ethnic Muslim minorities.
Taiwan is a self-governed democratic island that China claims as its sovereign territory. Beijing has refused to rule out the use of force if necessary to establish control over Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry said Sudworth did not inform relevant authorities before leaving the Chinese mainland. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters during a regular briefing that Sudworth could be facing lawsuits in Xinjiang over his reporting.
“If John Sudworth thinks his report is fair and objective, he should respond to lawsuits bravely without being afraid. If there is evidence that he has been threatened, he should call the police and we will protect him. But why is he leaving? What does this indicate?” Hua said.
China’s media regulators banned BBC World News in February, claiming that it had broadcast reports on China that “infringed the principles of truthfulness and impartiality in journalism.”
The BBC has run reports claiming that women have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured at camps in Xinjiang, where the US State Department alleges that up to 2 million people have been put into internment camps.
Beijing — which maintains that the camps are vocational training centers that help to deradicalize citizens — has accused the broadcaster of going on “a spree to spread explicit falsehoods about China’s policy” in the region. The BBC has said it stands by its reporting as fair and accurate.
The BBC World News ban in China came just after Ofcom, the British media regulator, said it had withdrawn a license for China Global Television Network, or CGTN, to broadcast in the United Kingdom.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in its annual report released earlier this month that press freedom in China had declined rapidly in the past year, with “all arms of state power” deployed to harass and intimidate foreign journalists, their Chinese colleagues and sources.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday, the FCCC said that Sudworth “forms one of an ever larger number of journalists driven out of China by unacceptable harassment.”
The departure of Sudworth “is a loss for the journalism community in China and more broadly, for anyone committed to understanding the country,” the organization said.
Two Australian journalists working in China left the country in September after they were questioned by police and forced to seek the protection of their country’s government, according to their news organizations.
And in August, Cheng Lei, an Australian anchor working for China’s state broadcaster CGTN, was detained by Chinese police on suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas,” according to the Australian government. Cheng was formally arrested last month.
— Philip Wang, Jonny Hallam and CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.