Chinese Journalists in Limbo Over U.S. Visas

  • In early May, the US government announced that it would restrict the visa stay period of Chinese journalists in the United States to 90 days.
  • The Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Association stated on the 6th that foreign journalists based in Hong Kong are experiencing "extremely abnormal" visa delays.
  • The US State Department previously stated that China's official media is not a news media, but a "tool of the Chinese Communist Party."

The US visas of a group of Chinese journalists in the United States expired on Thursday. China pointed out that no one has been informed of the visa extension application result, and warned that it will retaliate against the United States. The two have recently fought many rounds since at least 2018.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and until the 1980s, almost all media outlets in Mainland China were state-run. Reporters Without Borders consistently ranks China very poorly on media freedoms in their annual releases of the Press Freedom Index, labeling the Chinese government as having “the sorry distinction of leading the world in repression of the Internet.”

The tug-of-war may heat up again. In early May, the US government announced that it would restrict the visa stay period of Chinese journalists in the United States to 90 days. Journalists can apply for an extension of stay, but each extension is limited to 90 days.

August 6th is the first visa expiration date. The Chinese side stated that no Chinese reporters stationed in the United States have been informed of the visa extension application results.

“The U.S. should immediately correct its mistake and stop its actions,” he said. “If the U.S. persists, China will take a necessary and legitimate response to safeguard its rights,” said China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.

China’s state-run Global Times reported on Thursday that the current application of these Chinese journalists has not been rejected or approved, and they are in a waiting stage. According to the regulations of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, these Chinese journalists can continue to work for the same employer in the U.S. until November 4, the day after the U.S. presidential election.

However, if the application is rejected during the period, the reporter needs to leave the country immediately. This situation has been referred to as “sudden death,” a term used to describe an overtime period in many sporting events.

As of press time, the US has not issued a statement on the expiration of Chinese journalists’ visas. At the same time, the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Association stated on the 6th that foreign journalists based in Hong Kong are experiencing “extremely abnormal” visa delays.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said recently that if the United States insists on going its own way, China will be forced to respond properly. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, pointed out on social media that China’s countermeasures will target American journalists based in Hong Kong.

The Global Times reported that the US “ambiguously handled” the visa issue of Chinese journalists, and “seriously interfered with normal reporting.” The report quoted Yuan Zheng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that the reporter’s visa is “one of the several anti-China cards in Trump’s hand,” and may be issued before the election.

China and the United States have recently launched a media tug of war to expel journalists from each other’s countries. The United States has identified many Chinese official media outlets as “foreign missions,” and restricted their numbers of employees. China also requires many American media to submit lists of personnel and real estate.

Both China and the United States have not disclosed the specific number of affected Chinese journalists and their family members, which is estimated to reach several hundred. In 2019, the United States issued a total of 561 visas to Chinese journalists and their families.

Several Chinese state-controlled news outlets include China Daily, Xinhua, China Radio International, People’s Daily, Global Times, Beijing Review, and CGTN.

Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN), the People’s Daily, and many other Chinese state media have reporters stationed in the United States, dispatching employees from China, and hiring employees locally.

In addition to visas for foreign journalists, many Chinese employees also hold green cards, L visas for executives of multinational companies, and H1B visas for foreign employees. Their visas are not affected by this new regulation. Chinese state media can also hire American staff locally.

The US State Department previously stated that China’s official media is not a news media, but a “tool of the Chinese Communist Party.” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stillwell stated that the U.S. considers it a foreign mission and is self-defense. “We are cleaning the broken glass that we didn’t pay much attention to before,” he said.

However, the US visa policy applies to all Chinese journalists. In addition to Chinese official media reporters, many journalists working for China’s market-oriented media and non-U.S. media are also affected by visas, causing worries about cracking down on press freedom.

As the United States recently announced the cancellation of special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders, Hong Kong journalists based in the United States will also face the same restrictions.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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