The United States government designated five Chinese media agencies as “foreign missions” on Feb. 18. The next day, the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters were revoked.
On March 18, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that “China demands, in the spirit of reciprocity, that the China-based branches of Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Time declare in written form information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China.”
Additionally, journalists with U.S. citizenship employed by these five media agencies “will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.”
To claim that China’s retaliation is “reciprocity” shows China’s moral equivalence between state and independent media.
With the exception of VOA, a congressionally funded independent news outlet, all of the targeted American media are privately owned and independent of the U.S. government. Restricting them is an attack not on the American government, but on the free press.
By contrast, all five designated Chinese media agencies are directly run by the Chinese communist government; they are, indeed, “foreign missions.”
According to its official website, People’s Daily is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The People’s Daily website further confirms that Xinhua News Agency is “the state news agency of the People’s Republic of China … a major news and information collecting and distribution center in China.”
The official website of China Radio International states that “seventy years ago, a branch of Xinhua Radio Station, which later became China Radio International, began its first broadcast in English in Shexian County, Hebei Province.”
The China Global Television Network describes itself as an international media organization that is “now part of China’s predominant radio and television broadcaster, China Media Group, which has incorporated CCTV, CNR and CRI since March 2018.” That is to say, it is a subsidiary of CCTV, which, according to the CCTV official website, is a main mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party and government.
Finally, the China Daily is an English-language daily newspaper owned by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China.
Over the past decade, China has delayed or revoked press credentials to punish international news outlets for coverage that it did not like, such as reports on the mass repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, or investigations into the wealth of the country’s leaders.
The United States has hesitated to respond, wary that placing restrictions on Chinese media in the United States might go against the freedom of press as well as hurt American journalists in China.
We have long advocated for reciprocity as a guiding principle in U.S. diplomacy with China. As one of the coauthors of this article, Jianli Yang, said in a speech at the Defense Forum in 2009, a proactive China policy needs to be built around the principle of reciprocity.
Virtually all American media are blocked in China, but in the United States, China can freely broadcast. In fact, it is estimated that over 90 percent of Chinese language broadcasts in the U.S. are Chinese-government controlled. The Chinese government uses its media freedom to influence Chinese communities in the United States.
In the U.S. today, the Chinese government and its surrogates have wide access to universities, think tanks and broadcast studios through which they can advance their opinions and rationalize their actions. Chinese citizens can protest in America, but American citizens cannot protest in China.
Under a principle of reciprocity, the United States would demand the same rights and freedoms be extended to American citizens, officials and media in China that are extended to Chinese citizens, officials and media in the United States. We must demand a level playing field as a matter of principle.
The Chinese government’s disproportionate retaliation is particularly despicable because it comes in the midst of an unprecedented, made-in-China global crisis, when clear and reliable information about the coronavirus pandemic, which cannot be provided by the Chinese state-run media, is essential.
But the Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated that it cares more about controlling information about the pandemic than about controlling the virus itself. Now, with a clampdown on independent American media, the Communist Party has taken another step to insulate the international community from the truth about the Wuhan virus, and from the realities of Chinese society.
People may wonder why China would resort to game-playing at such a time, risking a crisis in international relations.
In fact, Xi Jinping is, typical of dictators, diverting internal pressure to external targets. Despite fawning by the World Health Organization and a range of collectivist admirers, the government’s bungled virus response has exposed the bankruptcy of the CCP ruler and the system itself.
Xi Jinping, surrounded by unprecedented anger, criticism and ridicule, is being confronted with resistance from within and without the party, which has been present, in latent form, since he removed term limits from China’s constitution, clearly revealing his ambition to become president for life.
Fierce confrontation and conflict with America, he thinks, will help him to mobilize people behind his nationalist banner, strengthen his hand in suppressing opposition both in and outside the party, and help him gain a lifelong mandate.
It is clear that for Xi, political self-preservation is more important than lives that can be saved, in China and around the world, by accurate media coverage.
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