The Trump administration said March 2 that it will reduce the number of Chinese staff allowed to work at several major Chinese state-run media outlets in the United States.
The move was described by senior administration officials as an act of reciprocity against Beijing’s continued use of “intimidation to silence members of a free and independent press.”
The Chinese regime has been presiding over a “deepening crackdown” on independent journalism within the country, two administration officials told reporters on a call on March 2, citing recent examples such as the disappearance of citizen journalists covering the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, and the arrest of Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong-based independent newspaper Apple Daily, in Hong Kong on charges connected to his participation in the city’s pro-democracy protests last year.
Last month, the regime revoked the visas of three Wall Street Journal reporters in Beijing after saying the newspaper refused to apologize for a “racially discriminatory” headline of an op-ed piece, which had called China the “real sick man of Asia.” Another reporter with the paper had to leave last year after Beijing declined to renew his visa.
“For years, the government of the People’s Republic of China has imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment, and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Effective March 13, Washington will cap the number of U.S.-based employees at Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, and China Daily Distribution Corp. at 100, a reduction from the current 160.
They are among the five Chinese state-run outlets designated by the U.S. State Department as “foreign missions” in February. No action was taken against the fifth company, Hai Tian Development USA, which is the U.S. distributor of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily. This designation means that staff are treated as foreign government employees, rather than journalists. The staffing cap is a direct result of that designation.
The five outlets are “explicit propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party,” one administration official said, noting that even after the cap takes effect, those outlets alone will still have more Chinese personnel in the United States than there are foreign reporters from all U.S. media companies in China.
In 2019 alone, the United States issued 425 I-visas—the visa type for representatives of foreign media—to Chinese nationals working in the media space, an official noted. In contrast, the number of U.S. journalists working in China for both U.S.-based and other foreign-based media is only about 100 in total.
Pompeo said that the move is a part of the Trump administration’s efforts to establish a “long-overdue level playing field” in its relationship with the regime.
“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,” he added.
On March 2, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said in a report that the Chinese regime has “weaponized” visas as part of an intensifying campaign to suppress independent reporting on issues deemed sensitive by Beijing.
“As China reaches new heights of economic influence, it has shown a growing willingness to use its considerable state power to suppress factual reporting that does not fit with the global image it seeks to present,” the report said.
Since 2013, “China has forced out nine foreign journalists, either through outright expulsion or by non-renewal of visas. The FCCC fears that China is preparing to expel more journalists,” the group said, citing responses from 114 reporters to a survey.
The personnel caps would be placed on the entities as opposed to people, hence it would be up to the media outlets to decide the necessary staffing cuts, the officials said.
While the United States won’t be sending anyone back, the officials acknowledged that Chinese individuals whose visas are contingent on their ability to work in the United States may be forced to leave the country.
In the near future, the United States also will be announcing limits on the duration of stay on I-visas issued to Chinese nationals, administration officials said.
Reuters contributed to this report.