“Now the U.S. has kicked off the game, let’s play,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote Tuesday on Twitter, a website that is blocked by China’s “Great Firewall” of censorship.
She was responding to the State Department’s announcement Monday that it was “instituting a personnel cap” on the five Chinese state media outlets: Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Daily, China Radio International and People’s Daily.
Those outlets currently employ about 160 Chinese citizens but will have to reduce those numbers to 100 by March 13.
Because the State Department last month designated those media as foreign missions of the Chinese government, it now has the scope to monitor and regulate personnel numbers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his department was trying to bring “reciprocity” to the U.S.-China relationship and was directly responding to Beijing’s decision last month to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters in retaliation for a headline on a column that the ministry deemed “racist.”
Two of the reporters, American Josh Chin and Australian Philip Wen, have now left China, but the third, American Chao Deng, remains stuck in Wuhan, where she was reporting on the coronavirus outbreak when the ministry revoked her press credentials.
The Foreign Ministry had already said it reserved the right to take further action against the Wall Street Journal and the United States for designating state media journalists as foreign agents.
Then came Monday’s announcement of limits on numbers of Chinese journalists allowed to operate in the United States.
“We condemn US ‘personnel cap’ on Chinese media — de facto expulsion,” Hua tweeted. “Another step of political oppression and evidence of hypocrisy in US freedom of press. Prejudice and exclusion against Chinese media.”
Then alighting on the United States’ avowed desire for “reciprocity,” she noted that there were 29 American media agencies in China compared with nine Chinese outlets in the United States, and that China gives multiple-entry to American correspondents while the United States gives only single-entry visas to Chinese ones.
She added that 21 Chinese journalists were “denied visas since last year.”
At the Foreign Ministry briefing Tuesday, Hua’s deputy, Zhao Lijian, chastised the United States for taking action based on “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
“The U.S. boasts freedom of press on the one hand, and obstructs the Chinese media’s normal reporting in the U.S. on the other hand, revealing the hypocrisy of the so-called freedom of press of the U.S., which is a naked double standard and hegemonic bullying,” he said.
The decision would “bring serious negative impact and damage to the relations between the two countries,” Zhao said, adding that the ministry again reserved the right to respond and take countermeasures.
While the United States does give only single-entry visas to Chinese journalists, they are indefinite, meaning a Chinese journalist can stay in the United States for a decade or longer if they want, as long as they do not leave the country.
But foreign reporters in China generally receive only year-long visas, although the Foreign Ministry is increasingly giving six- or three-month visas — and in some recent cases, only one month — to warn resident journalists whose work the ministry does not like.
This often involves coverage of China’s detention and oppression of more than a million people, mostly Muslim Uighurs, in the Xinjiang region.
In a report published this week, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said that the Chinese authorities had “weaponized” visas by issuing truncated press credentials to a dozen journalists in 2019, and expelling four Wall Street Journal correspondents in the space of six months. A quarter of members who responded said they received visas of less than the standard 12 months.
“This amounts to one of the most brazen attempts in the post-Mao Zedong era to influence foreign news organizations and to punish those whose work the Chinese government deems unacceptable,” the club said in its annual media freedoms report, “Control, Halt, Delete: Reporting in China under threat of expulsion.”
Based on responses from 114 correspondents representing 25 countries and regions, the report said that 82 percent of correspondents had experienced interference, harassment or violence while reporting, and 70 percent said they had had interviews canceled because of actions taken by Chinese authorities.
Asked about the FCCC’s report, Zhao on Monday said that China did not recognize the club, which it considers to be an illegal organization.
“We always welcome foreign media’s objective and comprehensive coverage of China and have always supported and facilitated their work in accordance with laws and regulations,” he said. “At the same time, permanent offices of foreign media and foreign journalists in China must abide by Chinese laws, regulations and decrees and observe their professional ethics. This is the same everywhere in the world.”
Reporters Without Borders last year ranked China 177 out of 180 in its World Press Freedom Index, while the United States was 48th.
“China’s state and privately-owned media are now under the Communist Party’s close control while foreign reporters trying to work in China are encountering more and more obstacles in the field,” Reporters Without Borders said.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese journalists who attempt to report outside the rigidly controlled strictures of state media often find themselves in trouble. Sometimes their reports disappear, sometimes they do.
Two “citizen reporters” who were sending unfiltered news from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, were quickly detained. Then last week, Li Zehua, a journalist who resigned from state broadcaster China Central Television so he could report independently from Wuhan, was also detained, apparently by officers from state security.
Fifield is a member of the FCCC board.