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Monday, July 06, 2020

Explained: Why the US is designating Chinese media outlets as ‘foreign missions’

For several years, the US had deliberated the decision to declare Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, but desisted partly due to concerns over restricting press freedoms, according to The New York Times.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 25, 2020 9:31:54 am
US China dispute, Chinese journalists in the US, US Chinese journalists, Chinese journalists foreign missions In this file photo taken Saturday, March 28, 2020, Wall Street Journal reporters embrace colleagues before their departure after being expelled from China at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

In the most recent flare-up between Washington and Beijing, the US State Department on Monday designated four Chinese news outlets as “foreign missions”, months after it had given five other Chinese entities the same label.

China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times are now part of a list that includes Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, and Hai Tian Development USA that were designated on February 18 under the Foreign Missions Act.

In a press statement, the State Department said, “The decision to designate these entities 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. It simply recognises them for what they are.

“These nine entities all meet the definition of a foreign mission under the Foreign Missions Act, which is to say that they are ‘substantially owned or effectively controlled’ by a foreign government. In this case, they are effectively controlled by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” it added.

So, what sparked the move?

Ties between the US and China have been strained since much before the coronavirus pandemic; the two countries have been locked in a bitter trade war since 2018. Amid Covid-19, relations have further deteriorated, with the two countries often finding themselves engaged in a political blame game.

The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed the coronavirus originated from a Wuhan lab, threatened to disrupt bilateral ties with Beijing, and accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of failing to contain the disease. The US is also furious over developments in Hong Kong, where China is seeking greater control.

For several years, the US had deliberated the decision to declare Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, but desisted partly due to concerns over restricting press freedoms, according to The New York Times.

But in February this year, the Trump administration pushed ahead, acting against five such organisations. Less than a day later, China expelled three journalists from The Wall Street Journal, giving them five days to leave the country.

Then in March, Washington said it was imposing visa quotas on the five designated Chinese entities, because of Beijing’s “long-standing intimidation and harassment of journalists.” China hit back by expelling more American journalists working in the country for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The latest escalation occurred days after a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Hawaii. The meeting failing to improve US-China relations, a Financial Times report said.

US China dispute, Chinese journalists in the US, US Chinese journalists, Chinese journalists foreign missions The New York Times Beijing based correspondent Steven Lee Myers, left, chats with other foreign journalists after attending a daily briefing by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

What does the designation mean?

The State Department press release said, “Entities designated as foreign missions must adhere to certain administrative requirements that also apply to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States.

“This designation recognises PRC propaganda outlets as foreign missions and increases transparency relating to the CCP and PRC government’s media activities in the United States,” it added.

According to The New York Times, the designated news organisations will be required to give the US State Department a complete roster of employees in the US as well as a list of their real estate holdings.

The Chinese foreign ministry has denounced the move, calling it a “political suppression of Chinese media”, and urged the US to “abandon the Cold War mentality, ideological prejudice, and immediately stop and correct this practice that does harm to both sides.”

Notably, the designation was announced soon after Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton made scathing remarks about the president in a tell-all book, accusing Trump of seeking Xi’s support for getting reelected in the November 2020 elections.

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According to Bolton, Trump also agreed with China’s highly criticised policy of bundling Uighur Muslims in internment camps — where they are allegedly schooled into giving up their identity, and assimilate better in the Communist country dominated by the Han Chinese.

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