China Power | Diplomacy | East Asia

China Moves to Expel Over a Dozen US Journalists

The largest expulsion of foreign journalists from China in recent memory highlights a steep decline in U.S.-China relations.

By Ken Moritsugu for
China Moves to Expel Over a Dozen US Journalists

The New York Times Beijing based correspondent Steven Lee Myers, left, chats with other foreign journalists after attending a daily briefing by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing, March 18, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong

At least 13 American journalists stand to be expelled from China in retaliation for a new visa limit imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese state-owned media operating in the United States.

The Chinese government announced Wednesday that Americans working at three major U.S. newspapers would have to surrender their press cards within 10 days. They will all but certainly have to leave the country, as their visas are tied to their media credentials.

The number of affected journalists at the papers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post — is at least 13 and could be higher depending on how broadly the group is defined, said the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, or FCCC.

It would be by far the largest expulsion of foreign journalists from China in recent memory.

“There are no winners in the use of journalists as diplomatic pawns by the world’s two preeminent economic powers,” the FCCC said in a statement.

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Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described the move as “necessary countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the U.S.”

He warned that “if the United States insists on walking farther down the wrong path, China will be forced to take further countermeasures.”

The United States announced earlier this month that five of China’s state-controlled media outlets would be restricted to 100 visas, the de facto expelling of about 60 journalists. It cited increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment, and intimidation of American and other foreign journalists working in China. The U.S. move closely followed China’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters, ostensibly in protest over an editorial headline that Beijing (and many others) viewed as racist.

The five outlets employ about 160 Chinese citizens in the United States and include the official Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network, the overseas arm of state broadcaster CCTV.

As Washington was mulling restrictions on the number of journalist visas issued to the state-run media organizations, it tapped into a long-running debate in the United States over how to best respond to worsening treatment of foreign journalists in China. Some hardliners have advocated “reciprocity,” meaning that Chinese journalists should be restricted in number to respond to Chinese government restrictions on U.S. reporters. But critics say that such a decision would violate U.S. values and only spark a race to the bottom in terms of restrictions on reporting.

Americans at the three newspapers whose credentials expire this year will have to give up their press cards. They will also be barred from working in the semi-autonomous Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao, the foreign ministry said.

Until Wednesday’s announcement, China had expelled nine foreign journalists since 2013, the FCCC said.

The dramatic step, which shocked foreign journalists in China, is the latest retaliatory move in a series of disputes between Beijing and Washington.

The two sides remain enmeshed in a tariff and trade war despite a recent truce and have traded angry words over the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in China and has spread worldwide.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong expressed alarm at the ban on working in the city, which has its own legal system under a “one country, two systems” principle that gives its residents greater freedoms than mainland China.

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The Hong Kong immigration department generally determines who can get a journalist visa. “If that system has changed, it would represent a serious erosion of the One Country, Two Systems principle,” the FCCHK said in a statement.

The Chinese foreign ministry office in Hong Kong said that the decision falls within the central government’s purview over foreign affairs under the principle.

Chinese state media echoed the government line that the United States bears responsibility for starting the dispute.

“The impact of the U.S. move will not be limited to the field of media, but will create negative overall effects and new uncertainties to the relationship,” the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disputed the comparison between the U.S. and Chinese actions, describing the Chinese media companies as propaganda outlets.

“We’ve identified these as foreign missions under American law,” he said. “These aren’t apples to apples, and I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct free press operations.”

Geng, the foreign ministry spokesman, said that the U.S. action harmed the reputation of the Chinese media and that the United States should not “use its own standards and likes and dislikes to judge media in other countries.”

In response to the U.S. designation of the five outlets as foreign missions, China said it would require the Chinese operations of five American media — the same three newspapers, Voice of America, and Time — to report their staff, finances, operations, and real estate in China.

Editors of all three American newspapers condemned the Chinese action.

Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, called on the Chinese and American governments to move quickly to resolve the dispute.

“The health and safety of people around the world depend on impartial reporting about its two largest economies, both of them now battling a common epidemic,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

By Ken Moritsugu for The Associated Press.

Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington and Media Writer David Bauder in New York contributed to this report. The Diplomat also contributed reporting.