Beijing has denied that its police officers beat up foreign journalists in locations designated by online groups as anti-government protest sites in recent weeks, amid growing tension between the foreign media and the ruling Communist Party.
"There is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists," foreign minister Yang Jiechi told reporters on Monday.
"We will continue to provide convenience for foreign reporters for their legal and reasonable reporting, and we also hope they respect China's laws and regulations," Yang said.
Beijing has tightened reporting restrictions in the wake of recent online calls for a Middle-East inspired "Jasmine revolution" calling on people to demonstrate in major Chinese cities every Sunday for a cleaner, more accountable government.
Foreign correspondents said the move is a retrograde step from the more open access to most parts of the country granted at the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Beijing-based foreign correspondents have been warned in recent days that they risk having their visas revoked if they try to report from designated protest sites without permission.
Reporters monitored, harassed
Meanwhile, security forces intensified their monitoring of journalists around the country following a number of reports of beatings or harrassment of foreign media workers in China.
A group of European and Japanese journalists who showed up at an advertised protest site were held by police for two hours in an underground "bunker-like" room on Sunday, where officers examined their documents, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said in a statement.
Police frequently detain foreign reporters in China for brief periods when covering sensitive events and ask them to produce their government-issued press cards.
And foreign journalists in Beijing said they have received phone calls or home visits from the police to check their paperwork and remind them about the need to follow reporting rules.
"We have had a lot of phone calls reminding us not to go to report [on the Jasmine protests]," said a Beijing-based foreign media journalist who asked to remain anonymous.
"They are mostly from the police, telling us that we have to respect [China's] laws in carrying out our reporting work."
Yang said it is important that people do not "exaggerate" the security situation in China.
"I have not noticed any signs of tension domestically. What I have seen is that the Chinese people had a joyful lunar new year and happy lantern festival," he said.
"This is the reality I have seen. I don't want to see people making something out of nothing."
'Controlled at every level'
Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said Beijing is extra-sensitive about upsetting social stability amid a wave of anti-government protests and "people power" revolutions in the Middle East.
Beijing generally limits coverage of major confrontations between governments and citizens to an officially approved angle, using the Party's powerful central propaganda department to limit the range of public opinion on the topic.
"They want to restrict what journalists can report on, as well as managing their freedom of movement," Li said.
"They are paying particular attention to media they believe to be anti-Chinese or anti-communist, and they are being controlled at every level," he said.
Li said recent comments from the foreign ministry show that Beijing's attitude to public opinion overseas has shifted considerably.
"They are richer now and are starting to throw their weight around, and they don't care so much what other people think," he said.
"Their statements are getting a lot more hard-line, from the top level of leadership down to local government level."
Yang Dali, politics professor at the University of Chicago, said recent news images of journalists and police waiting at designated protest sites for people to "stroll" by in protest were drawing too much attention to calls for a "Jasmine revolution."
"Relations between the government and reporters seem to have become strained," Yang said.
"They relaxed the environment for journalists from just before the Olympics until now, but obviously that is no longer the situation," he added.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.