US, China Reach Agreement on Easing Visa Restrictions for Journalists

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
November 17, 2021 Updated: November 17, 2021

The Chinese regime and the United States have agreed to ease visa restrictions for reporters from their respective countries, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department announced on Nov. 16.

The agreement was reached after the State Department “pressed” Beijing for months on bilateral issues that had been “longstanding roadblocks” and “longstanding concerns” for the United States, such as media access and visa issues, the spokesperson told The Epoch Times in a statement.

Both sides have agreed to issue yearlong visas to each other’s journalists. China has committed to issuing visas for a “group of U.S. reporters,” and the United States is set to reciprocate by issuing visas to Chinese journalists who are “eligible for the visa under U.S. law.”

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] committed to permit U.S. journalists already in the PRC to freely depart and return, which they had previously been unable to do. We plan to facilitate similar treatment,” the spokesperson said.

The dispute between China and the United States about media access stems from how differently Beijing views journalism. Inside China, the media environment is restrictive, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pressures reporters and media outlets to self-censor in favor of the one-party state for so-called social stability. Chinese state-run media outlets are still beholden to the Party when operating outside of China.

To that end, the Chinese regime expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters in February 2020, a decision made in retaliation over a column in the publication headlined “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”

A month later, the communist regime announced that it would expel more U.S. journalists, following a decision by the Trump administration to designate five Chinese state-run media outlets as “foreign missions,” identifying them as propaganda organs of the CCP. By the end of October 2020, 10 more Chinese state-run outlets were slapped with the designation.

“We have remained in close consultation with the affected outlets facing personnel shortages, and we are gratified their correspondents will be able to return to the PRC to continue their important work,” the spokesperson said.

China escalated its retaliatory actions in September 2020, when it imposed new restrictions against more U.S. journalists by delaying the renewal of their expiring press credentials.

In March, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a report stating that Beijing had used several tactics, including intimidation and visa curbs, to restrict foreign reporting in 2020.

One recent example of visa restriction occurred earlier this month in Hong Kong, when the city’s authorities refused to renew the visa of Sue-lin Wong, a reporter working for The Economist.

In response, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong issued a statement, calling on the Hong Kong government to “provide concrete assurances that applications for employment visas and visa extensions will be handled in a timely manner … and that the visa process for journalists will not be politicized or weaponized.”

One foreign journalist currently languishing in Chinese detention is Cheng Lei, who was arrested in August 2020 on suspicion of endangering China’s “national security.” Cheng is a Chinese-born, naturalized Australian citizen and a news anchor for China’s state-run China Global Television Network.

Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked China 177th out of 180 countries in its world press freedom index. As of Nov. 3, there were at least 122 journalists being detained inside China.

The agreement was first reported by China’s state-run media China Daily. Citing unnamed sources at China’s foreign ministry, China Daily said the agreement was reached before the virtual summit on Nov. 15 between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The two leaders didn’t make any breakthrough on issues concerning both countries. After the summit, a senior administration official said in a briefing that the two leaders “did not discuss visa issues in any sort of form.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

“We welcome this progress, but see it simply as initial steps,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to work toward expanding access and improving conditions for U.S. and other foreign media, and we will continue to advocate for media freedom as a reflection of our democratic values.”

Eva Fu contributed to the article. 

Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.