The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it was revoking the press credentials for American journalists from three newspapers, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, requiring them to return their media passes within 10 days and essentially expelling them from the country.
Beijing also declared five US media outlets – Voice of America, The Times, The Journal, The Post and Time magazine – to be foreign government functionaries, identifying them as agencies controlled by Washington.
The move is a fierce retaliation against the Trump administration's labelling on five Chinese state media as “foreign missions” last month. It also requires staff from the five US news organisations to report their personal, financial and property information to Chinese authorities.
The American journalists must return their press cards to Foreign Ministry within 10 days, and they will then be barred from working as journalists in China, including Hong Kong and Macau.
“These measures are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organisations experience in the US. They are legitimate and justified self-defence in every sense,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.
“What the US has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organisations. … The US approach to the Chinese media is based on a Cold War mentality and ideological bias, which has seriously tarnished the reputation and image of Chinese media organisations. … The US has been massively ‘deporting’ Chinese journalists in a disguised way,” it added.
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, responded on Tuesday: “We unequivocally condemn any action by China to expel US reporters. The Chinese government’s decision is particularly regrettable because it comes in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis, when clear and reliable information about the international response to Covid-19 is essential. Severely limiting the flow of that information, which China now seeks to do, only aggravates the situation.”
Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the move “shows that the US and China are firmly locked in a tit-for-tat battle on the landscape of the media and the press. The US-China relationship was already deteriorating significantly. China’s move wouldn’t alter the course but will just accelerate it.”
He said China’s actions were not an apples-to-apples retaliation because those taken by the US State Department were about increasing the oversight over Chinese state media operating in the United States, while the journalists who are being expelled by China, except for Voice of America, are independent journalists.
“Everyone knows state media workers from China, many of them have a dual role, these aren't comparable, but by the Chinese government’s own logic, it is by framing this retaliation and reciprocity in it, it’s a smart move on their part because it makes these look like this is a one for one response while they are qualitatively and quantitatively different,” Blanchette said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that he regretted China’s decision and that he hoped Beijing would reconsider. He said the move would deprive the world and the Chinese people of information in “incredibly challenging” times caused by the coronavirus.
All three US media outlets have reported politically sensitive stories in China, a long-term taboo with the Chinese Communist Party. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have written about Xinjiang, where China has interned up to 1 million Muslims in detention camps. Beijing says the camps are designed to combat extremism.
Last year, The Times revealed more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents about how to crack down on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region without “showing mercy”.
Chun Han Wong, one of the expelled Wall Street Journal journalists, was co-author last year of a report that a cousin of Chinese President Xi Jinping was under investigation in Australia for ties to organised crime, money laundering and alleged Chinese influence-peddling.
China’s retaliation came amid the growing tension between Beijing and Washington over issues ranging from trade, visas, intellectual property theft to even the coronavirus pandemic.
The move not only deepens the rift between Beijing and Washington – which has been growing since before US President Donald Trump started a trade war with China nearly two years ago – but also drags the issue of Hong Kong’s autonomy into the stand-off.
“China’s decision to kick American journalists out of the PRC is evidence of the ongoing decoupling not only of supply chains and financial systems, but of information and knowledge systems – of media and academia,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Centre’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
“Forbidding foreign journalists to report freely from Hong Kong clearly violates the spirit of Beijing’s promise that the [special administrative region] could retain its social system for 50 years after the handover,” he added.
Meanwhile, a spat between senior US and Chinese officials over how the coronavirus is referred to and who is most responsible for the pandemic spilled over into Trump’s press conference on Tuesday.
Cuomo wants “all states to be treated the same.” But all states aren’t the same. Some are being hit hard by the Chinese Virus, some are being hit practically not at all. New York is a very big “hotspot”, West Virginia has, thus far, zero cases. Andrew, keep politics out of it....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2020
The coronavirus “did come from China, so I think it’s very accurate,” Trump said at a White House press briefing on Tuesday, defending recent tweets in which he referred to a “Chinese virus”.
The terminology has drawn Trump, Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Beijing’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, into mutual recriminations since last week, exacerbating the tit-for-tat measures against each other’s media corps.
Earlier this month, the US State Department imposed employment restrictions on five Chinese state media outlets – all are deemed as propaganda arms of the Chinese Communist Party – requiring them to reduce the number of their US-based Chinese employees to around 100 from 160 now.
Pompeo said the move was a retaliation for Beijing’s “increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation” of American journalists.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US action against five Chinese news outlets would harm ties between the two countries and said China reserved the right to take further action.
In February, the US government declared several mainland Chinese media outlets – state news agency Xinhua, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, China Daily and Hai Tian Development USA – to be agencies controlled by Beijing.
The directive requires staff from these organisations to register with the US State Department the same way that embassy and consular employees do.
Hours after that US declaration, Beijing expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters, saying the move was prompted by the newspaper’s “sick man of Asia” headline on an opinion article.
Additional reporting by Robert Delaney
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