China to expel more US journalists in escalating row over media

US announced earlier this month that five state-controlled Chinese media outlets would face restrictions.

China journalist
China is expelling US journalists from three major US newspapers [File: Jason Lee/Reuters]

China has said it will revoke the credentials of journalists at three American newspapers after the United States imposed restrictions on Chinese nationals working at their state-owned media in the US. 

Beijing is demanding that US journalists working for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post newspapers, whose credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020, hand back their press cards within 10 days, according to a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many journalists would be affected.

Beijing on Tuesday said the journalists would also not be allowed to continue working in the semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong or Macau.

The Chinese move follows the US decision to designate five Chinese media outlets as foreign missions, and restricted the number of Chinese nationals that could work for them. 

Beijing said the steps were necessary and reciprocal countermeasures in response to what it called unreasonable oppression of Chinese media in the United States.

“The US expulsion of Chinese journalists was an upgraded evidence of political oppression,” tweeted Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. “For too long, the Chinese journalists have been unfairly treated under the discriminatory policies of the US.”

Amnesty International said the move was likely to further stifle access to information at a crucial time in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This latest escalation of the tit-for-tat row between Beijing and Washington threatens to severely undercut the flow of accurate and independent information from China,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty’s China team. “At a time when the world needs to work together to combat the devastation wrought by the virus, the banishment of these journalists could potentially have grim public health consequences.”

Designation as foreign missions

The US announcedearlier this month that the five state-controlled Chinese media outlets would be restricted to 100 visas, a de-facto expulsion of about one-third of their Chinese staff. It cited increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation of US and other foreign journalists working in China.

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The Chinese outlets, which employ about 160 Chinese citizens in the US, include the official Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network (CGTN), the international operation of state broadcaster CCTV.

In February, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters  over the newspaper’s coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday urged Beijing to reconsider the move.

“I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct the free press operations that, frankly, would be really good for the Chinese people in these incredibly challenging global times, where more information, more transparency are what will save lives,” Pompeo told reporters.

“This is unfortunate,” Pompeo said. “I hope they will reconsider.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs in both Beijing and Hong Kong expressed alarm at China’s decision.

The FCCC noted that at least 13 journalists had been given visas of less than six months since the start of 2019, while three of those had been given one month visas since the start of this year. Resident visas are usually issued for a year.

“By expelling journalists and keeping others in a state of visa uncertainty, China is overtly using its powers in an attempt to influence overseas news coverage, by punishing those who publish information authorities see as unfavorable and wish to keep quiet,” the group said in a statement.

The FCCHK noted that under ‘one country, two systems’ decisions about employment visas for foreign journalists were the responsibility of Hong Kong’s Immigration Department.

If the system had changed it would be a “serious erosion” of the territory’s governing framework, it added, urging the Hong Kong government to clarify the situation.

China has expelled nine correspondents since 2013, according to the FCCC. Its recent report into working conditions in the country found 82 percent of correspondents surveyed had experienced interference, harassment or violence while reporting. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies