In 2001, when it made a successful bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing promised there would be complete freedom for the foreign media to report in China. While this did not occur, more liberal rules were introduced, such as not requiring official permission before conducting interviews.

However, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia of 2010 triggered fear in Beijing that the Arab Spring movement might spill over into China and, very soon, there was a clampdown on the media, which has now led to the first expulsion of a foreign correspondent in more than a decade: Melissa Chan, the reporter for Al Jazeera's English-language channel.

Last year, when there were calls on the Internet for a gathering outside McDonald's at Beijing's Wangfujing shopping area, Chinese security authorities forbade reporting from the site.