Cut Chi­nese staff, U.S. or­ders news out­lets

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - National - CAROL MORELLO

WASH­ING­TON — In a ma­jor es­ca­la­tion of a me­dia war be­tween Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Mon­day or­dered four Chi­nese-news out­lets op­er­at­ing in the United States to re­duce the num­ber of Chi­nese na­tion­als work­ing on their staffs by more than a third.

The ac­tion comes on the heels of a State Depart­ment de­ci­sion on Feb. 18 re­quir­ing five Chi­nese-news or­ga­ni­za­tions con­sid­ered or­gans of the gov­ern­ment to reg­is­ter as for­eign mis­sions and pro­vide the names of em­ploy­ees.

China re­sponded by ex­pelling three Bei­jing-based Wall Street Journal re­porters, condemning as “racist” an es­say that ran in the news-out­let’s opin­ion sec­tion crit­i­ciz­ing China’s re­sponse to the coron­avirus out­break.

U.S. of­fi­cials said that by March 13, the Chi­nese-news out­lets can have no more than 100 Chi­nese cit­i­zens on staff, down from 160 cur­rently em­ployed by the five out­lets. The of­fi­cials said it was an ef­fort to bring “rec­i­proc­ity” to the U.S.-China re­la­tion­ship and to en­cour­age the rul­ing Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party to show a greater com­mit­ment to a free press. They noted that only 75 Amer­i­can re­porters are known to be work­ing in China.

“As we have done in other ar­eas of the U.S.-China re­la­tion­ship, we seek to es­tab­lish a long-over­due level play­ing field,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said in a state­ment. “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. We urge the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to im­me­di­ately up­hold its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments to re­spect free­dom of ex­pres­sion, in­clud­ing for mem­bers of the press.”

In an­nounc­ing the move, se­nior-ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials cited the dis­ap­pear­ance of cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists chron­i­cling the out­break of the coron­avirus in Wuhan. In a re­port by the For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents’ Club of China, called Con­trol, Halt, Delete, 8 in 10 cor­re­spon­dents said they had en­coun­tered in­ter­fer­ence, ha­rass­ment or vi­o­lence while re­port­ing and de­scribed the en­vi­ron­ment for jour­nal­ists as de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

Other of­fi­cials sought to dis­tin­guish the U.S. ac­tion from China’s ex­pul­sion of nine for­eign re­porters since 2013, when Xi Jing­ping as­cended to power. The ex­pul­sions were usu­ally at­trib­uted to the gov­ern­ment’s un­hap­pi­ness with news cov­er­age. U.S. of­fi­cials said it will be up to the des­ig­nated out­lets to de­ter­mine which em­ploy­ees to cut and said there will be no re­stric­tions placed on their con­tent or choice of what to cover.

But they said they are con­sid­er­ing im­pos­ing du­ra­tion lim­its on Chi­nese na­tion­als work­ing for the out­lets, sim­i­lar to those used by Bei­jing on for­eign cor­re­spon­dents.

Though they are not be­ing ex­pelled, many are in the coun­try on I-visas is­sued to for­eign me­dia and may not be able to stay in the coun­try if they lose their jobs.

The caps were im­posed pro­por­tion­ately on four of the five des­ig­nated out­lets: Xin­hua News Agency at 59, the China Global Tele­vi­sion Net­work at 30, the par­ent com­pany of the China Daily at nine and China Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional at two. The fifth des­ig­nated out­let, the dis­trib­u­tor for the Peo­ple’s Daily, was not capped, be­cause it has no Chi­nese cit­i­zens work­ing in the United States.

All the out­lets em­ploy Amer­i­cans as well as Chi­nese, so the caps will not elim­i­nate their abil­ity to cover news in the United States. But State Depart­ment of­fi­cials re­fused to call the af­fected em­ploy­ees jour­nal­ists, say­ing they work for pro­pa­ganda or­gans.

The gov­ern­ment in Bei­jing and the four out­lets were no­ti­fied of the re­stric­tions Mon­day morn­ing. U.S. of­fi­cials de­clined to spec­u­late on how Bei­jing may re­spond but said that if they re­tal­i­ate against for­eign re­porters in Bei­jing, “all op­tions are on the ta­ble.”

“Our goal is to get to a place where Bei­jing moves to a more ac­com­mo­dat­ing pos­ture to­ward jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing Amer­i­cans,” a se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said.

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