Vice President Joe Biden today publicly criticized the Chinese government for its restrictions on foreign journalists, saying that the US has "profound disagreements" on Beijing's treatment of American media outlets. As the New York Times reports, Biden made the comments during a speech in Beijing, and privately discussed the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese government has cracked down on foreign media as of late, refusing to issue residence visas to some several correspondents from Bloomberg News and the Times after each publication ran stories on the wealth of leading Chinese officials. Last month, employees at Bloomberg News alleged that the news service decided to not publish a report on the political connections of China's wealthiest man amid fears that the article would hinder future reporting in the country and hurt the company's sales of news terminals. Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg News' editor-in-chief, has denied the allegations, saying the story simply wasn't ready for publication.

"Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy."

"Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences," Biden said in an address to a group of American businesspeople in Beijing. The vice president added that "there are many more steps China can take to open its politics and society as well as its economy," though he did not get into specifics. Biden also spoke in private with correspondents from American media outlets, including Bloomberg News and the Times.

Hong Lei, spokesman for China's foreign ministry, told reporters at a press briefing Thursday that the country offers "a very convenient environment for news coverage for foreign media."

"As long as you are objective and just, I think an objective conclusion can be reached on that," Hong said.

"Unfettered coverage of China is a crucial issue."

The Times websites — both English- and Chinese-language versions — have been blocked in China since last October, purportedly due to the paper's investigation into the wealth of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Bloomberg News' site was also blocked following a report on President Xi's fortune, and the company's domestic terminal sales suffered mightily.

"Unfettered coverage of China is a crucial issue," Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, told the newspaper today. "At a time when China is such an important and compelling story, the world needs the highest-quality reporting on it."