The Trump administration is capping the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work at the five main Chinese media outlets in the US, citing Beijing’s harassment, surveillance and intimidation of foreign media in China.

The media outlets, which include China’s official news agency Xinhua, will be required to reduce their total number of Chinese nationals employed in the US from 160 to 100 by March 13. They must submit the names of those who will stop working for them to the US state department by Friday.

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said in a statement: “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.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that Beijing’s restrictions on foreign journalists are misguided. The US government has long welcomed foreign journalists, including PRC journalists, to work freely and without threat of reprisal.”

Mr Pompeo said the decision to implement the personnel cap was not based on any content produced by the entities and did not place restrictions on what they could publish in the US.

The decision marks a new stage in an escalating feud between Beijing and Washington over foreign media. China decided last month to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters, marking the first time in decades that the country has cancelled the press cards of multiple foreign reporters at the same time. Two were US nationals.

Beijing said the decision was punishment for a damning headline on a WSJ opinion piece blaming China for its handling of coronavirus, but it followed a Washington decision the day before to designate China’s five main news outlets in the US as foreign missions rather than independent news media. 

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The US described Xinhua alongside four other Chinese media outlets — China Radio International; China Global Television Network; and China Daily Distribution Corporation and Hai Tian Development USA, who are the distributors of newspapers China Daily and People’s Daily — as propaganda agents of the Chinese state that were henceforward required to submit personnel and property filings with US state department.

The state department informed the five Chinese organisations of the decision earlier on Monday, but US officials said they had not yet received a response. 

“The US 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 US state department official told reporters on Monday. 

The senior state department official said “all options are on the table” regarding future US measures against Chinese media.

A second senior state department official said that the US measures did not involve direct visa actions against the affected Chinese nationals, but acknowledged the moves could affect whether any of the 60 Chinese nationals who lost their jobs as a result could stay in the US.

The Trump administration has a febrile relationship with US media. President Donald Trump has frequently derided US media outlets that publish critical stories about him as “fake news”, and the state department recently refused a National Public Radio journalist a seat among travelling press accompanying Mr Pompeo, after the secretary of state was angered by another NPR reporter’s work. 



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