The Trump administration said on Monday it will restrict the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work for Chinese state media outlets in the United States, saying the move was designed to signal Washington’s concerns about Beijing’s "abusive" treatment of American and other foreign reporters in China.
Four Chinese state media outlets that currently employ about 160 Chinese citizens in U.S. offices will only be allowed to have 100 Chinese nationals based in the U.S., two senior administration officials told reporters. The new restrictions, which go into effect March 13, were announced after China last month revoked the visas and press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters based in Beijing.
"The U.S. has taken this action in order to clearly communicate the severity of our concerns about the abusive, unfair and non-reciprocal treatment of international press in China," a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told reporters.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later issued a statement, saying President Donald Trump “has made clear that Beijing’s restrictions on foreign journalists are misguided.”
The United States’ goal is “reciprocity,” Pompeo said. “As we have done in other areas of the U.S.-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field. It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to U.S. and other foreign press in China."
The four organizations affected are China’s official Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, and the China Daily Distribution Corporation, which distributes a newspaper of the same name. These organizations, along with a fifth entity, Hai Tian Development USA, which distributes the People’s Daily newspaper in the United States, were designated as “foreign missions” earlier this month, which required them to register their properties and employees in the U.S.
China’s embassy in Washington condemned the decision.
“This is a typical political drive based on the Cold-War mentality and ideological biases. We firmly oppose and deplore the wrong decision of the U.S. side,” Fang Hong, the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy, said in an email to NBC News.
“Chinese media outlets in the United States have been covering news based on the principles of objectivity, impartiality, truthfulness and accuracy. They have helped promote mutual understanding, communication and people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States,” she said.
“By instituting the personnel cap, the U.S. side is using the excuse of seeking reciprocity to keep down China’s media outlets,” the spokesperson added.
Administration officials said the decision did not mean that 60 employees from the Chinese outlets would be automatically expelled. The Department of Homeland Security will review each case and make a determination based on the terms of their visas and other factors.
Pompeo said the media outlets targeted for the personnel limit are effectively controlled by the Chinese government and are not independent news organizations.
“The decision to institute a personnel cap was not based on the content produced by these entities, nor does it place any restrictions on what the designated entities may publish in the United States," Pompeo said.
The officials said they do not regard the state media outlets as independent news organizations but rather as explicit propaganda outlets for China’s government.
“This decision to institute a personnel cap was not based on the content produced by these entities," the administration official said. "This stands in stark contrast unfortunately to the actions of the PRC government with respect to the international press in China."
Between 2015 and 2019, the U.S. has issued more than 11,000 “I visas” for foreign media representatives and their family members, and in 2019 the U.S. government issued 425 I visas to Chinese citizens.
The total number of U.S. journalists working in China on behalf of U.S. and foreign-based media is about 100, the officials said.
The U.S. government has long welcomed foreign journalists, including from China, to report the news freely without threat of reprisal, Pompeo said.