China Delays Renewing Credentials For Journalists At U.S. Outlets

On September 7th, China decided to delay the renewals of expiring press credentials for journalists at American media outlets, including news organizations such as CNN, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal. The decision was a response to Chinese journalists still waiting for their expired visas to be renewed in the United States. The Chinese journalists are allowed to stay in the country until the beginning of November, when their 90-day grace period ends. For several months, Beijing and Washington have exchanged tit-for-tat moves against each other’s journalists, fueling the tension between the two powers.

China’s Foreign Ministry recently informed the American embassy of China’s intention to limit foreign journalists’ access by denying press card renewals and pending visa applications. Morgan Ortagus, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, has criticized this development. Ortagus said, “The United States is of course troubled that these proposed actions … will worsen the reporting environment in China, which is already suffering a dearth of open and independent media reporting.”

CNN confirmed that David Culver, a journalist at that news organization, received a letter allowing him to stay in China for two months with his expired credentials. Other journalists from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal received similar letters. Culver was told the decision had nothing to do with his reporting; rather, it was motivated by the Trump administration and its conduct towards Chinese journalists. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Twitter that China “would be glad to continue our excellent cooperation with the US journalists here if Chinese journalists are treated fairly in the US.”

According to the New York Times, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China is discouraged by the situation. The Club demands that the Chinese government stops escalating the conflict, as it contributes to the “darkest year yet for media freedoms.”

This squabble complicates international news organizations’ ability to report from each country. As each country retaliates to the other, each one’s measures result in more expired press credentials and more invalid visas. This endangers the rights of reporting in international spaces.

The ongoing trade war Donald Trump triggered when he decided to increase tariffs on Chinese imports in 2018 has already worsened Sino-American tension. Now, experts worry that the last few months’ tit-for-tat actions could aggravate the situation even further. This March, Washington cut the number of employers allowed to work at Chinese state-owned media outlets in the U.S. by a third. Shortly after this, Beijing expelled twelve journalists working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. On June 23rd, the United States decided to denote four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, blaming the Communist Party for using the media as a propaganda tool. The Chinese response criticized the statement as a hostile action based on ideological differences, threatening that it would have to respond with similar measures unless the U.S. took back the claim. A few months later, on August 4th, China announced that it would take retaliatory measures if America forced out Chinese journalists.

China and America’s race to restrict freedoms of the press threatens to reduce the lack of independent media reporting even further. In order to stop reducing independent news coverage, both countries must protect journalists’ visas and press credentials. It is crucial that both countries stop escalating the cycle of retaliation and instead establish more diplomatic solutions.