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State Department Classifies Five Chinese State-Run Outlets as ‘Foreign Missions’

February 18, 2020

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 the People’s Daily (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 People’s Daily, via its distributor Hai Tian Development, have been registered under FARA since 1983 and 1996, respectively.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

March 2, 2020 Update

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.

March 17, 2020 Update

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.

May 11, 2020 Update

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.”

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