- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2020

In the latest shot in an escalating battle with China over media privileges and access, the State Department announced Monday it was placing a hard cap on the number of employees allowed to work for five major Chinese state-backed media outlets operating in the United States.

The decision comes in the aftermath of China’s decision to revoke the visas of three Wall Street Journal reporters last month, allegedly over an offensive headline that ran in the newspaper and the first such multiple expulsion in more than two decades. That move came after the Trump administration had announced a change in status for Chinese media company that effectively put new curbs on their freedom to travel and report in the U.S.

U.S. officials say the Chinese companies — Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and People’s Daily — are either directly controlled by the government in Beijing or work closely with it, and should not enjoy the same rights and privileges that other foreign press outlets receive.

According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, nine foreign journalists have been expelled from China since 2013, as President Xi Jinping has cracked down on dissent at home and access to critical media abroad for Chinese internet users.

“For years, the government of the People’s Republic of China has imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation against American and other foreign journalists operating in China,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the latest restrictions.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese government to Monday’s moves.

A senior Trump administration official told reporters on background that the “broader context” of the move was “a sustained and deepening crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party on all forms of independent journalism inside China and even outside China’s borders.”

“We’re witnessing an assault on free speech inside of China that goes even beyond what it was a decade ago,” the administration official added. “Even the Soviet Union used expulsions sparingly at the height of the Cold War, as contrasted with Beijing today.”

The personnel cap, set to go into effect March 13, would cap the total number of U.S.-based employees at the five targeted Chinese media outlets at 100, a 40% reduction from the current limit of 160.

“The decision to implement this personnel cap is not based on any content produced by these entities, nor does it place any restrictions on what the designed entities may publish in the United States,” Mr. Pompeo’s statement said. “Our goal is reciprocity. As we have done in other areas of the US-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field.”

State Department officials said they are not planning to send any media employees back to China immediately. However, officials acknowledged that job termination may affect visa status for those Chinese reporters whose visa is dependent upon their employment status in the U.S.

State Department officials said they are hoping that putting this personnel cap into action will “spur” China to “adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach” to foreign press from the United States and elsewhere.

“We urge the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” Mr. Pompeo said.

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