Tensions between Washington and Beijing over news organizations started to ramp up last month. On Feb. 18, the Trump administration declared that employees of five state-controlled Chinese news organizations — Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio, China Daily and The People’s Daily — were not practitioners of journalism, but government operatives. As such, the State Department announced, they would be treated as foreign government functionaries.
The next day, China announced that it would expel three Journal staff members based in Beijing in retaliation for an earlier headline on an opinion column, “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” which criticized the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Two of the Journal reporters, Josh Chin, an American, and Philip Wen, an Australian, flew out of Beijing the next week. A third reporter, Chao Deng, an American, had been reporting in the virus containment zone of Wuhan and could not leave.
The Journal’s publisher, William Lewis, had issued a statement on the headline that did not include an apology. The Journal has been in the crosshairs of the Chinese government since last year. In August, the Foreign Ministry declined to renew the visa of a Singaporean reporter for the newspaper’s Beijing bureau, Chun Han Wong, effectively expelling him. Mr. Wong and Mr. Wen, the Australian reporter, had co-written an investigative story on a cousin of Mr. Xi, the president.
The forced departures of the Journal reporters last month were believed to be the first outright expulsions of foreign journalists by the Chinese government since 1998. However, in recent years, according to a new report published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, it has become common practice for the government to harass foreign journalists and their families, in part by requiring them to undergo onerous processes for renewing their visas. Recently, some journalists have been subject to visas much shorter than the standard one-year duration: six months, three months, even shorter.
“Chinese authorities are using visas as weapons against the foreign press like never before, expanding their deployment of a longtime intimidation tactic as working conditions for foreign journalists in China severely deteriorated in 2019,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club report said.
It counted nine journalists who had effectively been thrown out of the country, whether via outright expulsion or through the unexplained refusal to grant a visa, since 2013, around the time of President Xi Jinping’s ascension.
On March 2, it was the U.S. government’s turn: The State Department announced that it would limit to 100 the number of Chinese citizens working for five state-controlled Chinese news organizations.