The US has imposed a cap on the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work for the five official media outlets in America at any given time, evoking a sharp response from Beijing which said Washington's move amounted to ‘blatant double standard and hegemonic bullying’.
Under the new rule announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, 2 March, the Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International, China Global Television Network and China Daily have been asked to reduce their Chinese employees from 160 to 100.
They have been asked to comply with the new limits by 13 March, a senior State Department official said.
The cap applies to the five Chinese state media entities operating in the US that have been designated as foreign missions, recognising that they are effectively controlled by the Chinese government, Pompeo said on Monday.
“Unlike foreign media organisations in China, these entities are not independent news organisations,” Pompeo said and alleged that for years, the Chinese government has imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China.
The caps go into effect on 13 March, but the entities have to provide the State Department the names of the personnel who will be cut by 6 March. The Chinese government was notified Monday, according to the officials.
“The US government is today instituting a personnel cap on certain PRC-controlled state media entities in the United States - specifically, the five entities that were designated by the US State Department on 18 February, 2020, as foreign missions of the People's Republic of China,” he said.
“This cap limits the number of Chinese citizens permitted to work for these organisations in the United States at any given time,” Pompeo said.
Reacting to the move by the US State Department, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing and condemns Washington's action.
“Out of a Cold War mindset and ideological bias, the US State Department uses groundless reasons to politically oppress Chinese media organisations based in the US,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing.
He said the move exposes “the hypocrisy of the United States' so-called freedom of the press as blatant double standard and hegemonic bullying”.
He said China reserves the right to react and take further action.
Secretary of State Pompeo said the decision to implement this personnel cap is not based on any content produced by the five Chinese entities, nor does it place any restrictions on what the designated entities may publish in the US.
“Our goal is reciprocity. As we have done in other areas of the US-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field. It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to US and other foreign press in China,” he said.
Pompeo urged the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.
Meanwhile, a senior administration official told reporters that there is an assault on free speech inside of China that goes even beyond what it was a decade ago.
“According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, we've also seen the expulsion of nine foreign journalists from China since 2013. Now, to put that into perspective, even the Soviet Union used expulsions sparingly at the height of the Cold War, as contrasted with Beijing today,” the official said.
Foreign reporters who have been expelled tend to be reporters who have reported on topics that are critically important to an international audience, the official said.
For example, the ruling Chinese Community Party's indoctrination camps and the use of forced labour to export products to US consumers; high-level corruption and the ways that wealth and power are employed by top leaders, sometimes against the interests of American business; how a virus first started spreading.
“So it’s really no accident also that the expelled foreign journalists are ones who speak Chinese language very well,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The US has issued 3,000 I-visas to Chinese nationals working in the media space, since 2015. By contrast, US news outlets have only about 75 American or other non-Chinese citizens working for them inside of mainland China.
“Also, the visas that we issue to Chinese propagandists have no duration of stay. They can stay indefinitely on those visas. By contrast, Beijing currently imposes duration of stay on all foreign reporters in China, some as short as 30 days. So, after 30 days, some reporters have to reapply for an extension,” the official said.
“So one step that we'll be announcing in the near future is establishing limits on duration of stay for People's Republic of China nationals coming to the United States on I-visas, which are the category for representatives of foreign media,” the official said.
This merely creates some degree of reciprocity for foreign journalists in China who are increasingly getting these shorter and shorter durations of stay based on, frankly, how much Beijing dislikes their reporting, the official noted.
Last month, China ordered three foreign correspondents from The Wall Street Journal to leave the country in its harshest move against international media in years.
China said it took action against the three journalists because the newspaper did not apologise for a “racially discriminatory” headline it published.