Dutch Newspaper Responds to Controversy over China Correspondent (Updated)

Oscar Garschagen has responded to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant, which were republished by Chinese state media yesterday. “Pure nonsense,” Garschagen says in a detailed reaction in the NRC – it is Zhang who is “making up stories” here. The article suggests that there was a lack of communication and trust between Garschagen and Zhang.

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, whose China correspondent became a topic of controversy yesterday when his former assistant published a post online that accused him of creating “fake news,” has now responded to the issue.

The story became a hot topic when Zhang published his allegations on several social media platforms. An article about the issue by Beijing Time received nearly 12,5 million views yesterday.

In “About the journalistic integrity of our correspondent in China“, NRC’s Peter Vandermeersch writes that the allegations of Oscar Garschagen’s ex-assistant Zhang Chaoqun have deeply affected the China reporter and the editorial team.

The article states:

What’s going on? In the period leading to Oscar Garschagen’s holiday, some tensions arose at the NRC-office in Shanghai between him and his news-assistant Zhang Chaoqun concerning his research, and his lack of input.”


“He was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”


“Garschagen pointed out to Zhang that he had to improve his work. He found it especially problematical that Zhang was clearly unwilling to join Oscar to the upcoming 19th Party Congress, and that he lacked ideas.”

Vandermeersch writes that Zhang was initially recommended to Garschagen through a colleague at the American radio outlet NPR, but that he did not have any experiences as a reporter. This became a source of irritation, miscommunication, and mistrust between the Dutchman and his assistant.

The article claims that this was a reason for Oscar to often go out by himself without his assistant, “also because he was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”

This work situation made the Dutch reporter decide to change assistants during his holiday, Garschagen says, but Zhang apparently had already prepared an attack on his employer in the form of his post on Weibo and WeChat.

The NRC also quotes Garschagen when he says:

“The fact that the Party media encourages Zhang and is all too willing to republish his accusations is noteworthy to me- it suits the current media climate, that makes it increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to work here. I’ve been followed and stopped for a chat countless times.”


“It is just pure nonsense.”


The article addresses the separate allegations of Garschagen creating “fake news” one by one. Garschagen denies he has made up any stories and says that some names in his reports have only been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

About the 2015 NPR story that showed great similarities with Garschagen’s own 2016 report, he says that he did, in fact, visit the factory and that his former colleague who worked at NPR allowed their assistants to exchange information on places and persons to interview. Garschagen does not further address the similarities between the persons of “Gao” and “Lei” in their stories.

He says that there had been miscommunication about certain reports mentioned by Zhang, and that he might have had to be more detailed in how he formulated certain things.

About another allegation, one involving Garschagen allegedly reporting about a golf club which he never visited, the reporter says it is just “pure nonsense.”


“It leaves many questions unanswered.”


The Dutch detailed response to the allegations against Garschagen have not made headlines in Chinese media. On Twitter, however, not everyone is convinced with the explanations given for the “fake news” accusations.

China Reuters Consumer Correspondent Pei Li calls the article a “laughable response” that leaves “many questions unanswered.”

Zhang, who has reported his case to the NRC Ombudsman yesterday, has not yet responded to Garschagen’s denial of his accusations on his social media pages on Twitter or Weibo.

Garschagen says he has now contacted the Dutch foreign ministry in Shanghai about the claims made against him, and about the circumstances that make it increasingly difficult for him to do his job as a China correspondent.

Update September 6:

Zhang has posted a statement on Twitter in both Chinese and English, in which he expresses his hopes that NRC will still let a neutral third party investigate this case. (See embedded tweet below):

By Manya Koetse

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About the author: Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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