US President Donald Trump’s administration has ordered four Chinese state-owned news outlets to slash the number of staff they have working in the US, part of a broader response to Beijing’s restrictions on US journalists, including its expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters last month.
The move risks further tit-for-tat measures from Beijing, as the world’s biggest economies continue a broader battle for global influence.
From Friday next week, the four outlets will be allowed to employ a combined total of 100 Chinese citizens in the US, down about 40 percent from now, two US Department of State officials told reporters on Monday on condition of anonymity.
The officials said the reductions were not expulsions, although about 60 employees would almost certainly need to leave the country.
“Unlike foreign media organizations in China, these entities are not independent news organizations,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement after the officials briefed reporters. “As we have done in other areas of the US-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field.”
The outlets affected by the move are Xinhua news agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International and China Daily Distribution Corp. A fifth, Hai Tian Development USA, is also included under the cap, but will not have to cut staff because it has only two Chinese employees on its payroll in the US.
The restrictions stem from an effort by the Trump administration to restore what officials call reciprocity between the way China and the US treat each other’s journalists.
China currently allows about 100 US citizens in the country and has severely restricted the number of visas it issues to foreign reporters.
More restrictions are likely to come soon.
Another senior US administration official, also briefing reporters ahead of Pompeo’s statement, said that the US plans to limit how long Chinese citizens are allowed to stay in the country on journalist visas.
That would match a Chinese requirement restricting foreign reporters to as little as 30 days before they must seek an extension.
China yesterday condemned the move, saying Chinese journalists have a “universally recognized professional reputation.”
“Out of a Cold War mindset the US is conducting political oppression on Chinese media agencies in the US,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) told reporters in Beijing. “We urge the US to correct its mistake at once and we reserve the right to take further actions.”
He said the move exposes the “hypocrisy of the United States’ so-called freedom of the press as blatant double standard and hegemonic bullying.”
Saying China reserves the right to react and take further action, Zhao added: “It was the US who broke the rules of the game first, China can only follow suit.”
Washington began mulling expulsions in earnest after China last month ordered the departure of the three Wall Street Journalreporters — two Americans and an Australian — after saying the outlet had refused to apologize for a “racially discriminatory” headline on an op-ed piece.
US officials have also said the reporters were expelled because of the Journal’s coverage of a Chinese government crackdown on Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
The Journal has defended its reporters and, like most US outlets, said it operates with a strict separation between its news and opinion staffs. The op-ed piece in question referred to China as “the real sick man of Asia.”
Additional reporting by AFP
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