State Department Classifies Five Chinese State-Run Outlets as ‘Foreign Missions’
The State Department announced on Feb. 18, 2020, it was classifying five Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign missions, a move that makes them subject to the same rules as foreign embassies and consulates located inside the U.S under the 1982 Foreign Missions Act.
The media organizations named were the U.S.-based outlets of Xinhua News Agency (the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China), China Global Television Network (the international division of state broadcaster CCTV), China Radio International (the state-run radio broadcaster), the China Daily newspaper (the Communist Party of China’s English-language daily paper), and Hai Tian Development USA (distributor for The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’s newspaper).
Under the new classification, these outlets will have to obtain approval from the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions to lease or buy real estate, and must report a list of all their employees, including their addresses and ages, on an ongoing basis to the office.
At a background briefing on the change, a senior state department official said these media organizations are under “very clear state control” and so the change was made because “each one of these entities meets the definition of foreign mission under our Foreign Mission Act, which is to say they are either substantially owned or effectively controlled by a foreign government.”
That official cautioned that these new rules would not impact the outlets abilities to report in the United States. “We’re not in any way, shape, or form constraining any of the journalistic activities these entities engage in. We’re just saying we’re going to treat them as a foreign mission,” the official said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang disagreed with that sentiment in his daily briefing on Feb. 19. “We deplore and reject the wrong decision of the US,” he said. “The US touts its press freedom. However, it is wantonly restricting and thwarting Chinese media outlets' normal operation there. This is totally unjustified and unacceptable. We urge the US to discard its ideological prejudice and Cold War zero-sum game mentality, and stop ill-advised measures that undermine bilateral trust and cooperation.”
Later in that same briefing, Shuang announced that China was expelling three Wall Street Journal reporters over anger at a headline in the outlet’s Opinion section.
In September 2018, the Department of Justice ordered CGTN and Xinhua to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. CGTN compiled with the request in February 2019, but Xinhua has yet to register. China Daily and the Hai Tian Development have been registered under FARA since 1983 and 1996, respectively.
Two weeks after designating five Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign missions, the State Department is now requiring nearly all of them to reduce the number of employees in their U.S. bureaus.
Calling the move a “major escalation of a media war between Beijing and Washington,” The Washington Post reported that on March 2, 2020, the Trump administration ordered Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International and the China Daily newspaper to reduce the number of Chinese nationals working on their staffs by roughly 40 percent.
The fifth organization to be classified under the Foreign Missions Act, the distributor for the newspaper People’s Daily, was not ordered to reduce its numbers because it has no Chinese citizens working in the United States. The outlets have a March 13 deadline to comply.
The order reduces the number of Chinese nationals working in the U.S from 160 to 100. The caps do not affect legal residents of the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported, but limit China Radio International to two Chinese nationals, China Daily to nine, China Global Television Network to 30 and Xinhua News Agency to 59.
At a press briefing in Beijing following the announcement of the cap of Chinese nationals, the Journal said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian likened the move to political oppression, and that his country was reserving the right to respond. China expelled three Journal reporters in February.
Following an escalation of words and restrictions between the United States and China, China announced on March 17, 2020, that it would expel American journalists working in the country for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
According to a translated statement published by state-run outlet Global Times, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced: “[American journalists] whose press credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020 notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within ten calendar days.”
“They will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions,” the statement continued.
According to the Times, the full scope of the directive is unclear, and the statement alludes to reciprocal measures against American journalists in response to “the discriminatory restrictions the U.S. has imposed on Chinese journalists with regard to visa, administrative review and reporting.”
In February, the U.S. State Department announced it was classifying the U.S. bureaus of five Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign missions.
In response, China expelled three Journal reporters, citing anger at a headline in the outlet’s Opinion section.
The State Department then gave a March 13 deadline for the Chinese outlets to reduce the number of employees in America.
With this latest expulsion, the Chinese Ministry is also demanding that the three newspapers, as well as Voice of America and Time magazine, provide the government detailed information on their staff, finance, real estate and operations in China.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that as of May 11, 2020, Chinese journalists working in the United States for non-American outlets would be restricted to a 90-day work visa, The New York Times reported.
Previously, the visas granted were generally open-ended. The new restrictions, the Times reported, were quietly posted and quickly criticized by Chinese state-controlled news media.
In February, the State Department re-classified the U.S. bureaus of five Chinese media organizations as foreign missions. In response, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters.
The State Department then gave a March 13 deadline for the Chinese outlets to reduce the number of employees in America. Less than a week later, on March 17, China announced that it would expel American journalists working for the Times, the Journal and The Washington Post.
In response to the new visa restrictions, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a statement calling the decision a “fool’s game”:
“This move by the United States only invites further harsh retaliation from China, where the expulsions of U.S. journalists have already devastated U.S.-owned news operations in the country, partly blinding the world to China's response to COVID-19.”
The State Department announced on June 22, 2020, that it was classifying four additional Chinese-run media outlets in the United States as foreign missions: China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily and the Global Times. The department had re-classified the U.S. bureaus of five other Chinese media organizations in February.
Under this classification, all nine outlets are now required to obtain approval from the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions to lease or buy real estate, and must report a list of all their employees, including their addresses and ages, on an ongoing basis to the office.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, “While Western media are beholden to the truth, PRC media are beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”
“The decision to designate these entities is not based on any content produced by these entities, nor does it place any restrictions on what the designated entities may publish in the United States. It simply recognizes them for what they are,” Ortagus added.
The day after the announcement, China’s foreign ministry criticized the actions, Reuters reported, and called on the U.S. to reverse course or warned that it would respond. Spokesman Zhao Lijian did not elaborate on possible responses.
The move is the latest in a series of escalations between the U.S. and China, with journalists in the middle.
Following the February reclassification by the U.S., China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters. The State Department then required the reclassified Chinese outlets to reduce their number of employees in the U.S. by mid-March. Shortly after, China announced that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, the Journal and The Washington Post.
In May, The Department of Homeland Security announced that Chinese journalists working in the U.S. for non-American outlets would be restricted to a 90-day work visa.
The Chinese government demanded on July 1, 2020, that four U.S. news organizations disclose details about their finances and operations in the country.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan said during a press briefing that the Associated Press, United Press International, CBS News and NPR News must submit the relevant paperwork to the Chinese government within seven days, CNN Business reported. The Ministry made a similar demand of five other U.S. media outlets in mid-March, requiring detailed information on their staff, finance, real estate and operations in China.
The AP said in a statement to CNN that it was seeking more information and would review the requirements carefully.
An NPR spokesperson told Reuters that the outlet is also studying the request and is in communication with the relevant authorities.
The move comes a little over a week after the U.S. State Department announced the reclassification of four additional Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions,” bringing the total of news organizations reclassified under the act to nine.
Following the initial reclassifications in February, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters. The State Department then required the reclassified Chinese outlets to reduce their number of employees in the U.S. by mid-March. Shortly after, China announced that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, the Journal and The Washington Post.
Zhao said during the press briefing that “the U.S. measures are based on Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices.”
“We urge the U.S. to immediately change course, correct its error, and desist in the political suppression and unreasonable restriction of Chinese media,” he added, according to CNBC.