The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Beijing pulls credentials for journalists at three U.S. news outlets, including The Post

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian gestures during a briefing in Beijing last month. (Andy Wong/AP)

Chinese authorities announced Tuesday that U.S. journalists from The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal will effectively be expelled from the country as part of retaliation for Trump administration limits on U.S.-based Chinese state media.

The move widens another rift in U.S.-China relations already strained by trade disputes and questions over how the world’s two biggest economies will recalibrate their ties after the corona­virus pandemic.

In a statement published Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the three U.S. outlets, plus Voice of America and Time magazine, will be designated as “foreign missions” and must report information about their staffs, finances, operations and real estate in China.

The statement did not mention pulling credentials for Time and the VOA, but it was unclear whether China would take further action.

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Speaking at the State Department on March 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he "regrets" China's decision to kick out some U.S. media outlets. (Video: The Washington Post)

The moves came after the United States took measures in February against Chinese Communist Party-controlled news outlets operating in the United States. Later, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters.

“I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct free-press operations that frankly would be really good for the Chinese people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters. “This is unfortunate. I hope they’ll reconsider.”

The new rules would reshape foreign journalism in China.

The statement said that U.S. citizens working for The Post, the Times and the Wall Street Journal, whose press credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020, must hand back their press cards. They will not be able to go to Hong Kong or Macao as a base for work, it said.

That will mean that many journalists will be forced to leave. An initial review by The Post suggested that the Chinese order would apply to one of the newspaper’s correspondents, Gerry Shih, who is a U.S. citizen, said Douglas Jehl, foreign editor at The Post.

“We unequivocally condemn any action by China to expel U.S. reporters,” said Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post.

“The Chinese government’s decision is particularly regrettable because it comes in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis, when clear and reliable information about the international response to covid-19 is essential,” he continued.

“Severely limiting the flow of that information, which China now seeks to do, only aggravates the situation,” Baron said.

The new rules take aim at some U.S. media outlets but not others. The Associated Press and Bloomberg News have offices in Beijing, for instance, as do major U.S. broadcasters including CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS.

Some U.S. media outlets base their East Asian teams in Hong Kong, where press freedom has been largely protected under a “one country, two systems” agreement since the territory returned to Chinese control in 1997.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have large newsrooms in Hong Kong. The Post has a bureau there.

There is no indication from the Chinese ministry statement that Hong Kong operations will be affected.

China has long had a complicated relationship with foreign media.

Over the past decade, Beijing has delayed or revoked press credentials to punish news outlets for lines of coverage that it does not like — such as reports on repression in Xinjiang or investigations into the wealth of the country’s leaders.

The United States has struggled to respond, wary that placing restrictions on Chinese media in the United States might hurt U.S. journalists in China.

That U.S. caution ended last month. The State Department announced on Feb. 18 that it would now treat the U.S. operations of five Chinese news organizations as official government entities, or “foreign missions.” The U.S. list included the state-run news agency Xinhua and the China Daily.

The next day, China fired back. Beijing expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters, marking the first time since Mao Zedong’s rule that multiple foreign journalists were kicked out at once.

Beijing cast the move as a response to a Feb. 3 headline on an opinion section piece in the Journal that referred to China, while it battled the novel coronavirus, as “the real sick man of Asia.”

Matt Murray, the paper’s editor in chief, said the Journal will keep reporting.

“We oppose government interference with a free press anywhere in the world,” he said. “Our commitment to reporting fully and deeply on China is unchanged.”

Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, called the Chinese order “especially irresponsible at a time when the world needs the free and open flow of credible information about the coronavirus pandemic.”

“It is critical that the governments of the United States and China move quickly to resolve this dispute and allow journalists to do the important work of informing the public,” he added. “The health and safety of people around the world depend on impartial reporting about its two largest economies, both of them now battling a common epidemic.”

Baquet said it was a “grave mistake for China to move backward and cut itself off from several of the world’s top news organizations.”

At the VOA, director Amanda Bennett said the organization is reviewing China’s statement. She noted that the VOA operates under a “congressionally mandated firewall, which prohibits editorial influence or control by the U.S. government.”

“We remain committed to continuing to serve as a consistently reliable, trusted and authoritative source of news to our Chinese-speaking audiences,” Bennett said.

Carol Morello and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.

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