The US State Department designated six Chinese media outlets as agents of China’s government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday, targeting the US operations of Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review and Economic Daily.
Under the Foreign Missions Act, employees of the outlets working in America will have to register as foreign agents with the US government, just as employees of foreign embassies are required to do.
“We simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information, can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself,” Pompeo said. “Not the same thing.”
The announcement comes after the State Department designated nine other Chinese media entities earlier this year, including Beijing’s flagship, Communist Party-controlled outlets People’s Daily, China Global Television Network, China Daily and Xinhua News Agency.
US-China relations have worsened in recent months as the two countries continue to feud over trade, human rights and the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington and Beijing have gone back and forth targeting each other’s media organisations and their employees with varying severity.
Beyond the foreign mission designations, the Trump administration this year also lowered the number of visas available to five of China’s most prominent print, radio and television propaganda outlets: Xinhua, China Global Television Network, China Daily, China Radio International and People’s Daily distributor Hai Tian Development USA. The number of visas dropped from 160 to 100.
Pompeo said on Wednesday that the administration was not placing any restrictions on what the designated Chinese media outlets could publish in the US.
In China, Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on the country’s own media outlets and kicked out numerous American journalists who have reported on news the Communist Party does not want made public.
In 2016, Xi toured the headquarters of Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV, and said that all news outlets run by the Communist Party must “protect the Party's authority and unity”.
The State Department cited that statement on Wednesday when justifying its decision to label the six Chinese media outlets as government agents.
While the earlier designations against Chinese media organisations this year targeted many of China’s most prominent Party-run media outlets, Wednesday’s announcement named a group of publications less widely known in the US.
Yicai Global is an English-language financial news site operated by the state-owned Shanghai Media Group.
Jiefang Daily and Xinmin Evening News are operated by the state-owned Shanghai United Media Group. Jiefang Daily is the official newspaper of the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Communist Party.
Social Sciences in China Press is run by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a government-run think tank. Economic Daily is a Communist Party-run newspaper. And Beijing Review, an English-language magazine, is produced by China International Publishing Group, the Communist Party’s foreign language publishing house.
A representative from the Chinese embassy in Washington accused the US of “hypocrisy” and warned that China may retaliate against the move.
“If it is bent on going down the wrong path, China will have to take legitimate, necessary reactions,” the representative said.
Also on Wednesday, Pompeo announced upcoming talks with foreign governments expected to focus on China.
He is expected to travel next week to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia, and said he planned to discuss ways to “thwart threats” coming from the Chinese Communist Party.