Beijing is imposing limits on the China-based branches of six US news organisations, a retaliatory move coming after Washington designated several Chinese media outlets as foreign missions last week.
The six US outlets – including ABC, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek – must submit details about the staffing, finances and real estate of their China-based operations to the government within seven days, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday.
Also hit with the new requirements were Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the Bureau of National Affairs and Feature Story News, a broadcast news agency. The Bureau of National Affairs, which is now called Bloomberg Industry Group, provides legal and regulatory news to industry professionals.
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Zhao said the action was in response to Washington’s refusal to rescind its designation of six more Chinese outlets as foreign missions last week, which came atop similar restrictions against other news entities imposed in June.
The foreign missions label means that employees of those outlets must register as “foreign agents”, just as diplomats are required to do.
The US actions had “severely harmed” the reputation and ability to function of the Chinese media, Zhao said, adding that the measures had “gravely interfered with Sino-US cultural exchange and exposed the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘freedom of the press’ flaunted by” the United States.
A representative for MPR confirmed that the network had received a request for information regarding the Shanghai bureau of Marketplace, a popular business and economics radio programme it owns.
US State Department and the other news outlets did not respond to a request for comment.
Of those hit with the new regulatory requirements, several have recently published reporting on acutely sensitive issues in China, including an in-depth profile by the Los Angeles Times chronicling the rise to power of Chinese President Xi Jinping. And while covering protests in Inner Mongolia for a September story, a Times reporter was detained and physically assaulted by police, the paper said.
Shortly before the Chinese government’s announcement on Monday, another of the targeted outlets, Newsweek, published an investigative piece alleging a coordinated effort by the Chinese Communist Party to sow social unrest in the US ahead of the upcoming election.
ABC has also broadcast programming critical of Chinese government policies, including interviews with US-based relatives of those believed to have been swept up in Beijing’s crackdown against Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in China’s northwest.
Monday’s announcement was the latest in a months-long series of tit-for-tat measures by Beijing and Washington limiting the freedom of each other’s foreign correspondents.
As bilateral tensions reached boiling point this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has expelled journalists from the Chinese bureaus of three major US newspapers and increased regulatory burdens for more than a dozen American media entities.
In turn, Washington has forcibly reduced the headcount for several Chinese state media outlets, slashed the permitted length of stay for Chinese journalist visa holders and branded more than a dozen Chinese outlets as actors of the state.
The Trump administration has framed such policies as a means to encourage reciprocity in the bilateral relationship, while its critics have argued that such an approach is fuelling an unwinnable race to the bottom and runs counter to the vaunted principle of a free press.
Even the administration’s own former ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad, effectively acknowledged that the general strategy has failed to reach its objectives.
“The unfortunate thing is we’re trying to rebalance the relationship so we have fairness and reciprocity, but every time we do something, they keep it unbalanced,” Branstad told Associated Press in September, shortly before he left his post in Beijing.
Washington’s push for reciprocity with China comes as US President Donald Trump has intensified his criticism of journalists covering his administration before the November 3 election.
In the same week his chief of staff said the administration was “not going to control” the coronavirus, Trump accused journalists of not praising the federal government’s handling of the pandemic and suggested that they were breaking electoral law.
“We have made tremendous progress with the China Virus, but the Fake News refuses to talk about it this close to the Election,” Trump tweeted on Monday, as US coronavirus deaths stood at more than 225,000, the most of any country. “COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by them, in total coordination, in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!”
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