A series of escalating blows between China and the U.S. continued on Tuesday with Chinese measures including a sweeping revocation of press credentials for American journalists for three major U.S. newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Only those whose press cards’ annual renewal for 2020 has already taken place appear eligible to remain. The move is extraordinary not just for its scope, but for its additional prohibition of expelled reporters subsequently working from the theoretically autonomous territories of Hong Kong or Macao. It comes in explicit response to the U.S.’ designation of five state media entities as “foreign missions”—the apparent trigger for the earlier expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters, ostensibly over an insensitive op-ed headline—and the subsequent imposition of a visa cap on those state media organizations’ U.S.-based staff, leading to the several dozen effective expulsions. Visa reciprocity measures have long been proposed and widely opposed as a response to China’s extensive restriction and obstruction of foreign news media.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the visa caps on March 2, tweeting “now the US kicked off the game, let’s play.” Similarly eliding China’s past actions, her colleague Zhao Lijian told a press briefing that “the US is guilty of foul play first. We will simply do what we have to do.” (Zhao has been a prominent figure in an ongoing Sino-U.S. exchange of recriminations and conspiracy theories between the two governments over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with Americans blaming Beijing for its emergence and Beijing seeking vindication in its suppression.) MoFA’s statement on the new restrictions warned of further action “should the US choose to go further down the wrong path”:
First, in response to the US designation of five Chinese media agencies as “foreign missions”, China demands, in the spirit of reciprocity, that the China-based branches of Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Time declare in written form information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China.
Second, in response to the US slashing the staff size of Chinese media outlets in the US, which is expulsion in all but name, China demands that journalists of US citizenship working with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post 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.
Third, in response to the discriminatory restrictions the US has imposed on Chinese journalists with regard to visa, administrative review and reporting, China will take reciprocal measures against American journalists.
The above-mentioned measures are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the US. They are legitimate and justified self-defense in every sense. What the US has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organizations, and hence driven by a Cold War mentality and ideological bias. It has seriously tarnished the reputation and image of Chinese media organizations, seriously affected their normal operation in the US, and seriously disrupted people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries. It has therefore exposed the hypocrisy of the self-styled advocate of press freedom. China urges the US to immediately change course, undo the damage, and stop its political oppression and arbitrary restrictions on Chinese media organizations. Should the US choose to go further down the wrong path, it could expect more countermeasures from China. [Source]
The New York Times’ Marc Tracy, Edward Wong, and Lara Jakes reported:
Orville Schell, a longtime American writer on China and a former dean of the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism who is now at the Asia Society, said of the move: “There’s been nothing on such a grand scale.”
“Throwing out the big papers is one notch below closing down an embassy,” he added. “It’s a devastatingly dangerous spiral that we’re falling into here. The already compromised musculature between the two countries is being rent apart.”
[…] Almost all the American reporters for the three news organizations named in the Tuesday announcement have press cards and visas or residence permits that expire this year. The press cards are needed to maintain residency, and turning them in effectively means the journalists would need to leave the country. Reporters who were recently given a press card and residence permit that do not expire until 2021 can presumably continue to work.
All three news organizations also have full-time reporters based in China who are not American citizens.
The announcement does not indicate that any Hong Kong-based newsrooms of the organizations would need to stop operations, even if the journalists expelled from the mainland are not allowed to report there. The Times and The Journal both have large newsrooms in Hong Kong that serve as editing hubs and bases for reporters. The Washington Post’s Southeast Asia bureau chief is also based in Hong Kong. Those reporters do not operate under the same regulations as the ones based in the mainland. [Source]
Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the move “shows that the US and China are firmly locked in a tit-for-tat battle on the landscape of the media and the press. The US-China relationship was already deteriorating significantly. China’s move wouldn’t alter the course but will just accelerate it.”
[…] “Everyone knows state media workers from China, many of them have a dual role, these aren’t comparable, but by the Chinese government’s own logic, it is by framing this retaliation and reciprocity in it, it’s a smart move on their part because it makes these look like this is a one for one response while they are qualitatively and quantitatively different,” Blanchette said.
[…] “China’s decision to kick American journalists out of the PRC is evidence of the ongoing decoupling not only of supply chains and financial systems, but of information and knowledge systems – of media and academia,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Centre’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
“Forbidding foreign journalists to report freely from Hong Kong clearly violates the spirit of Beijing’s promise that the [special administrative region] could retain its social system for 50 years after the handover,” he added. [Source]
Media scholar Viv Marsh commented on the Chinese side’s disregard for a distinction between independent journalists and reporters for state media mouthpieces:
This is entirely consistent with the official & extremely well-entrenched Chinese view of Western media – that the WM, too, are there to serve the interests of their state. I hear it from Chinese students all the time. Therefore semi tit-for-tat re CGTN/Xinhua foreign agent reg. https://t.co/CjTUJ9QsEB
— Viv Marsh (@vivmarshuk) March 17, 2020
While retaliation following the state media visa caps was widely anticipated, the bar on expelled reporters continuing to work from Hong Kong was unexpected. The territory has previously refused a visa renewal to Financial Times editor Victor Mallet and denied entry to Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth, but the new restriction raised questions about its execution given the territory’s battered but still legally intact autonomy.
If there are any US citizen working as journalists for the aforementioned press, who are also Hong Kong permanent residents, it will be a limbo situation
China said they can’t work as journalists in Hong Kong, but Basic Law protects freedom to choose professiona
— Kris Cheng (@krislc) March 17, 2020
Also the Hong Kong bureau of NYT should really consider taking it to court b/c this expulsion is a clear violation of HK Basic Law. pic.twitter.com/dm8JEo8VRr
— Tony Lin (social distancing aka introverting) (@tony_zy) March 17, 2020
Chris Horton noted a curious omission from the destinations ruled off-limits to displaced reporters:
Interesting: China not prohibiting American reporters from working in China’s Taiwan https://t.co/Fns2u07ZtL
— Chris Horton 何貴森 (@heguisen) March 17, 2020
At New Bloom, Brian Hioe speculated on the possibility that Taiwan will indeed become a new base for displaced reporters. Rights groups and media organizations have recently begun to establish regional bases on the island nation as the space for free expression in Hong Kong has been shrinking.
Josh Chin, one of the three Wall Street Journal reporters expelled last month, and some of the newly affected journalists reflected on the news:
Reupping this tweet in light of China’s decision tonight to revoke the credentials of American reporters https://t.co/OId0gZRcZD
— Josh Chin (@joshchin) March 17, 2020
It seems this was my last story from China. 15 years and it’s over like that. Looking back, the changes, good and bad, are staggering. I feel so lucky to have gotten a chance to see so much history + to tell the stories of so many amazing people. What more could anyone ask for? https://t.co/FO3LCXEBtr
— Paul Mozur 孟建国 (@paulmozur) March 17, 2020
China is expelling all American journalists w/the NYT, WSJ & WaPo — myself included. So many feelings, but I keep coming back to my last trip, to Wuhan, where ppl were so willing to talk – they wanted the world to know what was happening to them and to hold their govt accountable https://t.co/VQnKk6NITs
— Amy Qin (@amyyqin) March 17, 2020
Very disappointed to leave China (and aforementioned apt) but I don’t imagine Ill stop covering this beat. Thinking back, reporting conditions have become so difficult that much of the China stories I’m most proud of were in fact reported outside
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) March 18, 2020
Point is: China is now a huge sprawling international story. It can cut off access inside the country to limit scrutiny, and maybe one day it can even shut down critical reporting all over the world. But that day isn’t here yet.
(And sorry for the burst of self-promotion)
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) March 18, 2020
The targeted publications also released statements:
— Kristine Coratti Kelly (@kriscoratti) March 17, 2020
— WSJ Communications (@WSJPR) March 17, 2020
Statement from NYT’s Dean Baquet: pic.twitter.com/01QpEdFjhe
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) March 17, 2020
Our response to China’s demands of TIME and other U.S. news organizations: pic.twitter.com/s75yuWirQG
— Edward Felsenthal (@efelsenthal) March 17, 2020
Further condemnation came from human rights and free speech groups:
— Sophie Richardson (@SophieHRW) March 17, 2020
“The Chinese government’s unprecedented move chokes off a major element of the very limited space for reporting in China,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities already exercise near-total control over the domestic media, such that the foreign press has been vital in enhancing the world’s understanding of China.”
[…] “In the midst of a global health crisis – when accurate and timely information is needed more than ever – Beijing’s decision only seals its image as an enemy of a free press,” Wang said. “The Chinese government should immediately withdraw the ban and allow free reporting by domestic and foreign reporters.” [Source]
“At a time when facts and information are a matter of life and death for billions of people worldwide, the cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation between Beijing and Washington over the role of journalists is stunningly misguided and a grave risk to public safety. Both countries should lift any applicable restrictions and allow professional media outlets to play their role of reporting the news and calling it like they see it. It would be impossible not to interpret Beijing’s latest move as an effort to control the uncontrollable story, namely the spread of COVID-19. The role of government vis-a-vis the media right now should be to offer information and, beyond that, get out of the way of health experts, scientists and credible journalists who are telling the public what they urgently need to know.” [Source]
“The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns this senseless but entirely predictable retaliation by the Chinese government, which threatens to sharply curtail the reporting operations of major U.S. publications in China,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Beijing and Washington should negotiate to solve their differences and stop taking measures that cripple news reporting during a global pandemic, when the public’s need for accurate information is greater than ever.” [Source]
The world is on fire and China and the US are adding oil to the fire by expelling journalists from both sides and blaming each other for the spread of the virus. https://t.co/7epdX8wZkm
— Xinyan Yu (@xinyanyu) March 17, 2020
With this news, I’m thinking back to this moment just over 30 years ago—when CCP general secretary Zhao Ziyang (purged in 1989) held a free-flowing, high-spirited press conference w/journalists after the 13th Party Congress. How terrible to have arrived at such a lowpoint today. https://t.co/EOYCE7zJf6 pic.twitter.com/dTPbuZ6Mzz
— Julian Gewirtz (@JulianGewirtz) March 17, 2020
With China kicking out American journalists, the world loses a crucial window on the drivers of global health and global economy. Whatever you think of American media, this is bad for finance, pandemics, education, and national security worldwide, including for Chinese citizens. https://t.co/e50RMLLtWy
— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) March 17, 2020
Like I said before, tit for tat with China is a bad strategy, it’s a race to the bottom ethically, and in terms of free speech, China’s is always willing to go lower. https://t.co/jZJfVd2hJp
— China Law Translate / Jeremy Daum (@ChinaLawTransl8) March 17, 2020
As I said at the time: https://t.co/iRl5jNMHC2
— Graham Webster (@gwbstr) March 17, 2020
Really sorry to see you have to leave @paulmozur. You have helped to raise my voice, my mothers voice and my #UYGHUR ppl voice to the international stage by your courageous work. Stay safe and good luck my friend.
— Ferkat Jawdat (@ferkat_jawdat) March 17, 2020
Have no words for this… This is the feeling I’ve had for many things that happened in China in the past 7 years. Now this is happening to my colleagues… https://t.co/q4J97xOSbE
— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) March 18, 2020
Let’s not kid ourselves, though, about reporting on China’s activities outside its borders. There’s no substitute for on-the-ground reporting in China, and you can’t make sense of its foreign policy if you don’t understand its internal dynamics.
— Anthony Kuhn (@akuhnNPRnews) March 18, 2020
The expulsion of so many outstanding, professional colleagues hurts the outside world’s understanding of China. But it robs China, too, of sources of information its leaders used to value semi-openly. I have never forgotten this 2001 Zhu Rongji press conference I attended 1/3
— David Rennie 任大伟 (@DSORennie) March 18, 2020
Zhu replied that *because* fgn & HK press doubted the official version, he sent investigators. He hedged his earlier denials, and said history wouldn’t let truth be hidden. There are still officials like that in China but this week shows their frightening lack of influence3/3
— David Rennie 任大伟 (@DSORennie) March 18, 2020