In a move reminiscent of the Cold War, five Chinese state media entities were informed by the U.S. State Department Monday that they will have to reduce the number of their nationals working in the U.S.
Characterized by the State Department as a "personnel cap," the restriction stipulates that no more than 100 citizens of the Peoples' Republic of China will be able to work in the U.S. for the five state media outlets, effective March 13. A senior State Department official says about 160 Chinese nationals are currently employed by the five entities.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear in a statement that the newly imposed quota for Chinese state media employees in the U.S. is in response to Beijing's "misguided" restrictions on foreign journalists working in China.
"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," Pompeo said, noting the decision to impose the cap does not stem from any content produced by those entities, nor does it restrict what they may publish in the U.S.
"Our goal is reciprocity," said Pompeo. "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 five Chinese state media outlets targeted by the caps were all designated last month by the State Department as foreign missions of the PRC government, meaning they are either substantially owned or effectively controlled the government of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Those organizations include China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, China Global Television Network, and the U.S. distributor of People's Daily, Hai Tian Development USA. All will have to reduce the Chinese nationals on their staffs by roughly 40%, with the exception of Hai Tian, where no PRC citizens are employed.
Other Chinese news outlets in the U.S. will not be affected by the cap, according to a senior State Department official.
The limit on Chinese employees follows punitive actions by authorities in Beijing against American journalists working in China.
The day after the State Department designated the Chinese state media as foreign missions, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters based there.
Chinese authorities justified the expulsion of the three correspondents — two Americans and one Australian — citing the "China is the Real Sick Man of Asia" headline for a Feb. 3 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, which those officials termed "racially discriminatory." None of the expelled reporters had contributed to that opinion piece.
Asked whether the cap imposed on the Chinese state media outlets was specifically in response to the ejection of those reporters, a senior State Department official maintained it was not.
"It does not link to any one particular incident," the official said, "although the incident you point to was, in fact, a fairly egregious example." He said about 100 American journalists are now working in China and alleged that "the PRC has imposed increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation" against them and other foreign journalists in China.
A report released this week by the 186-member Foreign Correspondents' Club of China bolsters those charges. It finds Chinese authorities are using the visa applications required of foreign journalists seeking to work in China "as weapons against the foreign press like never before."
The FCCC study, titled "Control-Halt-Delete," states that since Xi's ascent to power in 2013, nine foreign journalists have either been expelled from China or had their visa renewals denied. Last year, it adds, a dozen foreign correspondents were given credentials valid for less than six months, even though such short-term visas normally are issued for a full year. Among the affected U.S. news organizations were The Wall Street Journal, Voice of America and The New York Times.
"The influence and pressure brought to bear on foreign journalists in China," the report concludes, "reflects how Chinese authorities extend their reach and scope in chilling ways to ensure the 'China story' has but one narrative — theirs."
According to the State Department, the Chinese state media organizations designated foreign missions have until March 6 to inform U.S. authorities which employees will be cut to meet the new personnel caps. It is entirely up to those entities, one U.S. official said, to decide who those persons will be.