U.S. Limits Chinese Staff at News Agencies Controlled by Beijing
The Trump administration on Monday announced new limits on the number of Chinese citizens who may work in the United States for five state-controlled Chinese news organizations. The decision is expected to escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing in a diplomatic feud that has caught journalists in the crossfire.
The State Department insisted that it was not expelling Chinese journalists, a step that Beijing took last week against three Wall Street Journal reporters — the first time foreign correspondents had been ordered to leave China since 1998.
But the new limits could, in effect, force Chinese citizens to leave if their visas allowing them to work in the United States are tied to the news organizations that must now choose which employees will remain on assignment in the United States.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would not restrict the content of what the five organizations report — a contrast to what he described as increased surveillance, harassment and intimidation of foreign journalists in China.
“Our goal is reciprocity,” Mr. Pompeo said. “As we have done in other areas of the U.S.-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field. It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to U.S. and other foreign press in China.”
The new restriction applies only to Chinese citizens working at five news organizations that the State Department deemed propaganda outlets controlled by the government in Beijing. It requires the five organizations — Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and People’s Daily — to limit the number of Chinese employees in the United States to 100, collectively.
Currently, about 160 Chinese citizens work in the United States for those news outlets, meaning that 60 must either leave by the time the new policy takes effect on March 13 or ensure they have a visa that will allow them to stay.
Senior State Department officials said the five organizations would have broad authority to decide who on staff — whether journalists, managers or other employees — would remain. The officials said the move was not a result of any specific information or content that the five organizations have published or broadcast.
Instead, two senior State Department officials said, the new limits seek to punish Beijing for what they described as systematic stifling of press freedoms against foreign reporters in China. The two officials briefed reporters on condition of anonymity as required under State Department protocol.
Beyond the expulsions of the Journal reporters, the Chinese government has repeatedly allowed the visas of correspondents whose work is perceived as unfriendly to lapse, forcing them to leave the country.
A report released Monday by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China pointed to another Wall Street Journal journalist who in the past year was in effect forced to leave. He had written about potential ties between organized crime and a cousin of President Xi Jinping of China.
The report said that in at least five other cases, the Chinese government had similarly declined to renew resident journalists’ long-term visas. Reporters formerly from Al Jazeera English and The Guardian confirmed to The New York Times that the government had declined to grant them new visas, without explanation, ending for all intents and purposes their careers as journalists in China.
The report, titled “Control, Halt, Delete: Reporting in China Under Threat of Expulsion,” also focused on what it characterized as a ramped-up practice of issuing truncated long-term visas — ones that must be renewed after a short period in an onerous process that also implicates visa-holders’ family members in the country. The report called this a means of harassing journalists and sending the not-so-subtle message that the Chinese government was displeased with their reporting, whether it concerned Mr. Xi, protests in Hong Kong or the treatment of ethnic minorities.
In all, the report concluded, at least a dozen correspondents received visas for six months or less in 2019, compared with five the year before. The standard length for a long-term journalist visa, known as a J-1, is one year.
“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 the report, which was based on a survey of more than 100 journalists in China from 25 countries.
Frédéric Lemaître, a China-based correspondent for the French newspaper Le Monde, said in an email that he was on his second consecutive three-month visa after he wrote a series about Mr. Xi. Mr. Lemaître said an official in the press office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had told him, “You are our guest, and in China, guests must respect the host.”
While China’s Foreign Ministry formally oversees foreign journalists, accreditation decisions appear to involve other arms of the government, including security and propaganda agencies. The decision to expel the Journal reporters was unlikely to have been made solely by the ministry.
China expelled the Journal reporters the day after the State Department declared that it would officially treat the five Chinese news agencies as foreign government functionaries and therefore subject to similar rules and restrictions as diplomats stationed in the United States.
In announcing the move, a Foreign Ministry spokesman cited a controversial headline to an opinion article in the Journal from last month that had referred to China as the “Real Sick Man of Asia.” The article criticized China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Lara Jakes reported from Washington and Marc Tracy from New York.