China Threatens Retaliation for US Curbs on Media

Security personnel pull gates in front of the Great Hall of the People after the closing session of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing last month. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING (AFP) — China on Tuesday threatened to retaliate against new U.S. restrictions on Chinese state media, escalating tensions between the two superpowers as they crack down on each other’s news outlets.

The State Department said Monday it was reclassifying four organizations — China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily and the Global Times — as foreign missions rather than media outlets in the United States, adding to five others so designated in February.

China has expelled more than a dozen U.S. journalists as part of the row.

On Tuesday Beijing decried the latest U.S. move as “bare-faced political suppression of Chinese media” that “further exposes the hypocrisy of the so-called freedom of speech and press which the U.S. likes to flaunt.”

“We strongly urge the U.S. to reject this Cold War mindset and ideological bias. … Otherwise China will have no choice but to make an appropriate response,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

All nine Chinese state-run news organisations will be required to report details of their U.S.-based staff and real estate transactions to the State Department. Their news reporting will not be restricted, U.S. officials said.

“These four entities are not media outlets; they are propaganda outlets,” David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, told reporters.

He declined to say whether the four organizations would be asked to reduce their U.S.-based staff, which was required of the five that were designated earlier.

The announcement provided more evidence that a closed-door meeting last week in Hawaii between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi did little to ease tensions.

The five state news outlets earlier designated as foreign missions were Xinhua news agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International and the U.S. distributors of the People’s Daily and English-language China Daily.

After these outlets were ordered to slash their numbers of Chinese employees in the United States, Beijing hit back in March by expelling U.S. citizens working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

Some media rights advocates have voiced misgivings about the approach of President Trump’s administration, saying it gave China a pretext to kick out journalists who have fearlessly reported on the coronavirus pandemic and the mass incarceration of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.

State Department officials say U.S. media are free to report critically on their government while Chinese state-run outlets report to the government, although Trump has repeatedly called U.S. reporters “enemies of the people,” a Communist phrase.

In February, China expelled three journalists from The Wall Street Journal after the newspaper ran an opinion piece with a headline that called the country the “sick man of Asia” — a phrase Beijing called racist.

Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state, played down fears that China would expel more U.S. journalists, saying the U.S. actions were “simply an excuse” for Beijing to crack down on media. 

“Trying to tie what we do to defend ourselves to what they choose to do — to kick out the best investigative reporters, especially the ones who speak Chinese — this is all their choice,” he said. 

by LAURIE CHEN with SHAUN TANDON in Washington
© Agence France-Presse

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