On Monday, China announced additional rules for a set of six U.S. media organizations working in China, mandating that they report to the government on their staffing, finances, and real estate within the week. The targeted organizations are the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Feature Story News, the Bureau of National Affairs, and Minnesota Public Radio. The new rules are the latest in tit-for-tat measures between Beijing and Washington targeting news firms.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian described the newly imposed requirements as “necessary,” “legitimate,” and “justified self-defense.” “What the United States has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organizations driven by the cold war mentality and ideological basis,” Zhao said.
Beijing’s move comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced restrictions for six more Chinese media organizations, targeting Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review, and Economic Daily, and requiring that they register as foreign missions. In his remarks, Pompeo stated that the designations do not affect the content of what can be published in the United States. “We simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information, can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself,” he said.
These reciprocal moves are the latest to hit media relations as U.S.-China relations have soured further throughout 2020. More than a dozen other Chinese media outlets have been designated as foreign missions including Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, Hai Tian Development USA, China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times. The designation of “foreign mission” requires the outlets to identify their U.S.-based staff and real estate transactions to the State Department. In March, the Trump administration also reduced the number of Chinese citizens able to work for five major state-controlled news organizations (Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily, and People’s Daily) from 160 to 100. Separately, in May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shortened the duration of visas for Chinese journalists to a maximum of 90 days.
In retaliatory countermeasures, U.S. citizens working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post in China were expelled from the country. Journalists working for Bloomberg News, CNN, Getty Images, and the Wall Street Journal have been unable to renew their press credentials in China, raising concerns that more China-based journalists will face similar barriers when seeking to renew their own credentials. In a statement last month, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said that “these coercive practices have again turned accredited foreign journalists in China into pawns in a wider diplomatic conflict.” The group called on the Chinese government “to halt this cycle of tit-for-tat reprisals in what is quickly becoming the darkest year yet for media freedoms.”
Concerns over access are not new to two-way media relations. Some analysts claim that in the absence of reciprocity from China, certain dimensions of the U.S.-China relationship may need to break down. “If China is unwilling to allow American reporters to work in China, the U.S. government must contemplate asking all Chinese reporters in America to leave. If China continues to block the websites of American media companies in China, the United States should consider closing the operations of Chinese-funded media outlets in the United States,” said John Pomfret, author and former Beijing bureau chief of the Washington Post in testimony in June before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
While there are fundamental differences between independent U.S. media organizations and Chinese state-backed news institutions, both Washington and Beijing stand to lose from winnowing space for press operations in the respective countries. The cycle of retribution and erosion of media relations not only reinforces the dominance of each government’s approach to the other, but also eliminates valuable sources of information for both the Chinese people and American people to learn about the other outside of how the government presents the bilateral relationship. If reciprocity in media access is the stated objective, the two sides seem to be on a race to the bottom, taking steps backward and pulling the relationship further apart.