US-China media row deepens as Beijing hints at revenge over curbs on state media

Official news agency protests against Washington’s cap on US-based Chinese nationals working for state-owned outlets

China has hinted at retaliation against the US for its decision to slash the number of Chinese state media staff allowed in the country, escalating a diplomatic feud over the treatment of journalists in both nations.

State news agency Xinhua issued a statement on Wednesday protesting Washington’s announcement this week that it would cap the number of US-based Chinese nationals working for five state-owned media outlets. The move came after China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters.

“It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to US and other foreign press in China,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said.

Beginning on 13 March, the US will cap the number of employees for Xinhua, China Global Television network, the international arm of state broadcaster CCTV, as well as China Radio International and the China Daily at a total of 100, down from 160.

On Tuesday, ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying posted on Twitter, which is blocked in China: “Reciprocity? 29 US media agencies in China VS 9 Chinese ones in the US. Multiple-entry to China VS Single-entry to the US. 21 Chinese journalists denied visas since last year. Now the US kicked off the game, let’s play.”

Another spokesperson, Zhao Lijian said the move amounted to “political oppression” of Chinese media organisations that amounted to a “a Cold War mindset and ideological bias”. In its statement of protest Xinhua said the outlet had always strictly followed US laws and regulations.

Foreign correspondents in China, already facing deteriorating working conditions, fear the diplomatic spat will put more pressure on them and lead to more expulsions. Since 2013, after Chinese leader Xi Jinping took office, Beijing has forced out nine foreign journalists, namely those who have worked on sensitive topics like China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

“Chinese authorities are using visas as weapons against the foreign press like never before, expanding their deployment of a longtime intimidation tactic as working conditions for foreign journalists in China severely deteriorated in 2019,” said a report released last week from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, based on interviews with more than 100 foreign journalists based in China.

The report said 82% of reporters surveyed said they had experienced interference, harassment or violence while reporting last year and 70% said interviews had been cancelled because of actions taken by Chinese authorities.

The US last month reclassified five Chinese state media outlets as foreign missions, subjecting them to a new set of rules and restrictions. The day after, Beijing announced the expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters, two Americans and one Australian, citing the newspaper’s use of a headline in an opinion article that referred to China as the “Real Sick Man of Asia.”

The three expelled reporters had not worked on the editorial, which criticised China’s response to the current coronavirus outbreak.


Lily Kuo in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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