Cut Chinese staff, U.S. orders news outlets
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.