For the past several years China and the United States have been increasingly at odds on several fronts. It started with trade, then shifted to United States’ criticism of how China is dealing with the protests in Hong Kong, and most recently COVID-19. Perhaps being perpetuated by President Trump and his childish remarks on several of these different tension points, China appears to be done with sanctions, criticism, and overall what China has called “United States hegemonic bullying.” The most recent event that has triggered this sentiment is the United States tightening visas for U.S. based Chinese journalists, the number of Chinese journalists allowed per company is now only 100, down from 160. Previously in May, President Trump had announced that all Chinese journalist visas would last for a maximum of 90 days unless extended, and this news of the shrinking of staff sizes for these news agencies comes just nine days before the deadline for an extension; China has been preparing for all news personnel to be forced to return home on Thursday, August 6th.
The United States finds their essentially forceful removal of all Chinese media to be grounded in one particular truth of these new agencies. These agencies are primarily owned and operated by the Chinese government, or at the very least have the government as a very significant shareholder, and thus operates as a sort of extension of power that has the capability to be the liaison by which Chinese politics and propaganda enters into America. Whether this is true or not can be debated but one point that critics of this move have raised is that this is an outward attack on the principle of freedom of speech that America claims to value so much. This criticism is based on the fact that irregardless of who owns the media company this is very straightforwardly, forcibly removing media that you do not agree with. In many ways this is akin to the Cold War era with the prominent anticommunist rhetoric.
As with most adverse events that find their way to China, they have promised retaliatory attacks, this time against American journalists stationed in China, even saying that journalists based in Hong Kong are not off limits to disciplinary action that could include also being sent home. As a primary response to the United States limiting Chinese visas to 90 days, China sent home multiple journalists working for various news companies including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, Fox News reports. With the United States doubling down on their action and sending home 60 Chinese personnel outright and the other 100 presumed to be shortly following suit, China can be expected to go into Hong Kong and remove more American journalists as collateral, although this is speculation as China has not stated what exactly their retaliatory action will consist of.
I believe that this is a losing battle for the United States for the simple reason that by losing journalists in China covering important events like the Hong Kong protests is far more of a loss for the world gaining a transparent view of China, than having arguable Chinese propaganda in America that can more easily be dealt with. Without journalists that work for prominent newspapers being able to cover and expose the rest of the world to these types of events that occur in China we lose a great deal of transparency giving China the ability to cover up potential atrocities like they have done in the past. Furthermore, there are other measures that can be taken such as flagging certain Chinese owned news agencies as potential propaganda than simply sending home all their employees and effectively shutting down the business; not only is this raising tensions between America and China even more, it is an attack on the free media which is a slippery slope that recently the United States has been struggling to not fall down.
The best course of action would be to reinstate the visas of the Chinese media personnel and monitor the types of stories they are outputting and flag those that seem to be a part of an agenda being pushed by the PRC. Not only would this allow free speech of all kinds to exist, it would also allow American journalists to remain in China and give a more centrist view of events that do happen in China.