China Freezes Credentials for Journalists at U.S. Outlets, Hinting at Expulsions

The Chinese government put a similar freeze on press card renewals in late 2013 for journalists from The Times and Bloomberg News because of sensitivities involving coverage. The halt on renewals led to fears of mass expulsions and efforts by Joseph R. Biden Jr., then vice president, to stress to Chinese leaders the importance of a free press during a visit to Beijing. The Chinese government eventually renewed those press cards and granted new residence permits, but refused to issue visas for any new incoming journalists from the two organizations for a couple of years.

This March, China expelled almost all American journalists for The Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post from mainland bureaus. That was done after the State Department told five Chinese state-run news organizations they could employ a total of only 100 non-Americans, which resulted in the expulsions of 60 Chinese workers from the United States. Earlier, in February, Washington designated those five organizations diplomatic entities, requiring them to turn over lists of their employees and property assets. (It designated four more Chinese organizations in June.)

On Feb. 19, the day after Washington made the first round of designations, Beijing announced the expulsions of three Wall Street Journal reporters, the first such outright evictions of journalists since 1998. Chinese officials said they took action because of what they called an inflammatory headline — “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” — on a Journal opinion column.

Chinese officials have also forced the ouster of some Chinese employees from the Beijing bureaus of several American news organizations, including The Times, The Journal and CNN.

Chinese officials have also said the journalists expelled this year cannot work in Hong Kong, a former British colony that in theory operates under a semi-autonomous governance system. But Beijing imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong in June, one that mainland and Hong Kong officials have already begun using to curb civil liberties in the territory. And in recent months, Hong Kong officials have delayed or refused to issue work permits to some foreign journalists, an occurrence that was once rare. As a result, the Times and other news organizations are moving some of their journalists based there to other cities in Asia.

American officials say their actions against Chinese news media organizations and employees are in reaction to the tightening restrictions Beijing has imposed on foreign journalists in China in recent years. Those include limiting the duration of press cards, residence permits and visas from the standard length of one year to as short as one month in cases where Chinese officials seek to punish a reporter or try to get a news organization to self-censor.

Some Trump administration officials are intent on steering the U.S.-China relationship toward a course of permanent competition and confrontation, one they hope will be difficult to reverse even if President Trump loses to Mr. Biden in the November election. Mr. Trump cares about maintaining robust trade with China and has praised Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader. But he has become more openly critical of China in the run-up to the election, because his strategists see it as an issue that can help divert voters away from the president’s vast failures on the coronavirus pandemic.

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