China threatened Tuesday to retaliate against new US restrictions on Chinese state media, escalating tensions between the two superpowers as they crackdown on each other’s news outlets.
The US State Department said Monday it was reclassifying four organisations — China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily and the Global Times — as foreign missions rather than media outlets in the United States, adding to five others designated in February.
China has already expelled more than a dozen American journalists as part of the row.
On Tuesday Beijing decried the latest US move as “bare-faced political suppression of Chinese media” that “further exposes the hypocrisy of the so-called freedom of speech and press which the US likes to flaunt”.
“We strongly urge the US to reject this Cold War mindset and ideological bias… otherwise China will have no choice but to make an appropriate response,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a routine briefing.
All nine Chinese state-run news organisations will be required to report details of their US-based staff and real estate transactions to the State Department. Their news reporting will not be restricted, officials said.
“These four entities are not media outlets; they are propaganda outlets,” David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for East Asia, told reporters.
He declined to say if the four organisations would be asked to reduce their US-based staff, which was required of the five that were earlier designated.
The announcement was further evidence that a closed-door meeting last week in Hawaii between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi did little to ease bilateral tensions.
The five state news outlets earlier designated as foreign missions were Xinhua news agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International and the US distributors of the People’s Daily and English-language China Daily.
After these outlets were ordered to slash their numbers of Chinese employees in the United States, Beijing hit back in March by expelling US citizens working for three major newspapers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Some media rights advocates have voiced misgivings about the approach of President Donald Trump’s administration, saying it gave China a pretext to kick out journalists who have fearlessly reported on the coronavirus pandemic and the mass incarceration of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.
State Department officials say US media are free to report critically on their government while Chinese state-run outlets report to the government.
In February, China separately expelled three journalists from The Wall Street Journal after the newspaper ran an opinion piece with a headline that called the country the “sick man of Asia” — a word choice Beijing called racist.
Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state, played down fears that China would expel more US journalists, saying the US actions were “simply an excuse” for Beijing to crack down on media.
“Trying to tie what we do to defend ourselves to what they choose to do — to kick out the best investigative reporters, especially the ones who speak Chinese — this is all their choice,” he said.