The State Department ordered Chinese state-media entities to cut their U.S. staff by nearly 40 percent after China expelled some U.S. journalists from its borders.
The new restrictions will affect the five major Chinese news agencies operating in the United States — Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily, and People's Daily. The Trump administration said that the policy aims to compel the regime to respect press freedom for foreign journalists operating within China.
"Our goal is reciprocity," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "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."
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The new restrictions will force the media companies to reduce their combined staff from 160 to 100 employees, according to a State Department official. The outlets must announce their revised staffing arrangement by March 6 and fully comply with the rules by March 13. The new rules for the propaganda outfits come on the heels of China's decision to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters after the U.S. outlet published an opinion column that China said was offensive. The expelled journalists, who had no role in their outlet's decision to publish the column, wrote about the coronavirus outbreak and repression in Xinjiang. Pompeo condemned the expulsions in February.
U.S. officials have long suspected such outlets have participated in spy programs in the United States. For example, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan body sanctioned by Congress, found in 2017 that Xinhua News Agency "serves some of the functions of an intelligence agency" by ordering employees to compile classified reports on domestic and international events. The State Department designated the outlets as "foreign missions" in February, a designation that requires the outlets to disclose "basic information" about their real estate holdings and employees to the federal government.
Many of these media outlets have blurred the lines between propaganda and news in their American operations. The Washington Free Beacon found that China Daily repeatedly violated federal disclosure laws as the outlet bought hundreds of ad spaces to run propaganda articles in the New York Times and other mainstream outlets. In response, 35 members of Congress asked the Justice Department to launch a probe into China Daily‘s compliance with federal disclosure requirements.
Pompeo stressed that the restrictions do not place any limits on what the state agencies choose to publish in the United States. "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 designated entities may publish in the United States," he said. A State Department official added that Chinese citizens working for other outlets are not affected by the order.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) praised the order as a "good start," but called for further action against Chinese propaganda outlets.
"The Chinese Communist Party kicked out real journalists because their publication reported the facts," Cotton said in a statement. "Today, the administration took justified, retaliatory action by restricting the number of Chinese propagandists in the United States."
"This is a good start, but propaganda outlets like China Daily are political tools of the CCP, and they should be investigated for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)," Cotton said.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy told the Free Beacon that the State Department’s decision is based on "Cold-War mentality and ideological biases." She said Chinese state outlets cover news in the United States based on the "principles of objectivity, impartiality, truthfulness, and accuracy."