Beijing Hits Back Against U.S. Media Restrictions, Arms Sales

China’s Foreign Ministry announced a series of retaliatory measures against U.S. media organizations and defense corporations on Monday. This is the latest move in a protracted tit-for-tat battle with the Trump administration over media access between the U.S. and China. The current exchange began in February when the Trump administration adopted more aggressive responses to longstanding Chinese restrictions and reprisals, a shift many had warned would invite escalation. Beijing this week ordered six U.S.-based media outlets to submit detailed information about their operations in China. AP reported on the details of the latest announcement:

A foreign ministry statement issued late Monday demanded that the bureaus of ABC, The Los Angeles Times, Minnesota Public Radio, the Bureau of National Affairs, Newsweek and Feature Story News declare information about their staff, finances, operations and real estate in China within seven days.

The announcement came five days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said six would have to register as foreign missions, which requires them to file similar information with the U.S. government.

The six were the third group of Chinese media required to do so this year. Each time, China has responded by forcing a similar number of U.S. media to file about their operations. [Source]

In a similar move in July in response to Washington’s designation of five Chinese outlets as “foreign missions,” China announced audits on the AP, United Press International, CBS, and NPR.

South China Morning Post’s Owen Churchill noted some possible factors in the selection of the most recent targets:

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. [Source]

The monthslong tit-for-tat has taken a significant toll on foreign media organizations’ ability to report inside China. In August for ChinaFile, Matt DeButts wrote about how the growing scrutiny and expulsion of American journalists have made it harder to do nuanced and in-depth reporting:

Filling in that data with plot, characters, and images is the challenge of remote reporting. It’s a challenge Zacharia emphasizes in her course on foreign correspondence. How do reporters make distant lives relevant to a domestic reader? How can characters leap from the page when the reporter hasn’t met them in person?

Zacharia recommends going back to “the fundamentals.” Calling sources. Finding on-the-ground help. Creating “compelling single-character stories.” She notes that during a pandemic, reporting on distant warzones can resemble reporting on a New York hospital: thousands of people are dying, but you can’t get into the hospital. Finding individual stories within the numbers, she says, remains crucial.

[…] Accessing emotive stories from afar can be hard emotionally as well as logistically. Emily Feng, NPR’s China correspondent, laments the “extractive” sensation of interviewing from a distance. Reporting from Beijing on Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak, for instance.

“You never look them in the eye, you can’t see how they felt,” Feng said, about speaking with people who had lost relatives to the coronavirus. “You just kind of run away with the worst moment of their lives.” [Source]

At the same press conference on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian announced that Beijing would impose on three American defense corporations for selling weapons to Taiwan. The Wall Street Journal’s Chun Han Wong reported on the announcement, which notably lacked specifics and timing:

The U.S. State Department last week approved proposals to sell missiles, rocket artillery, aerial reconnaissance sensors and related gear to Taiwan—the Trump administration’s latest effort to put pressure on China through closer defense ties with Taipei.

China “firmly opposes” and condemns U.S. sales to Taiwan, which “severely damage Chinese sovereignty and security interests,” Mr. Zhao said at a routine briefing on Monday, calling on Washington to cease weapons deals and military cooperation with Taipei.

While portraying the sanctions as necessary measures to safeguard China’s national interests, Mr. Zhao didn’t elaborate on the specifics or timing. He had similarly withheld details in July, when he announced sanctions on Lockheed Martin in response to Washington’s approval of a $620 million upgrade package for Taiwan’s Patriot surface-to-air missiles. [Source]

The imposition of sanctions by Beijing on Boeing’s defense division is noteworthy, given the importance of Boeing to the US-China relationship.

Much has been written about the historical role and continued importance of Boeing’s sales to China, which is one of the biggest markets for commercial aircraft today. Aircraft purchases are also critical to Beijing’s commitment to buy more than $200 billion more of U.S. goods as part of the Phase One trade deal signed in January.

The newly announced sanctions came shortly after Xi Jinping delivered a blistering address last week on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. CDT published a two-part directive from the Cyberspace Administration of China on coverage of the commemorations last week. Analysts have warned that the aggressive tone of the speech bodes badly for cross-strait relations, which hit back in particular against separatism. The Washington Post’s Gerry Shih covered details of the speech, which pointedly referenced the U.S.’s “occupation” of the Taiwan Strait:

With U.S.-China tensions at their highest point in years, Chinese President Xi Jinping hammered home the message in a blistering televised address about the “magnificent” War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, as the Korean War is commonly referred to in China.

“Seventy years ago, imperialist invaders blazed the flames of war all the way to the doorstep of the New China,” Xi told his nation as he recounted how in 1950 the U.S. Navy occupied the Taiwan Strait, and how American forces crossed into North Korea and bombed its border region with China. But the Chinese and North Koreans fought back, he said, and “broke the myth of the invincibility of the U.S. military” to force a truce.

“We Chinese know well we must speak to invaders with the language they understand: So we use war to stop war, we use military might to stop hostility, we win peace and respect with victory,” Xi said. “In the face of difficulty or danger, our legs do not tremble, our backs do not bend.” [Source]

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