By Shaun Tandon
The United States on Tuesday tightened rules on Chinese state media organizations as it classified them as foreign missions, decrying what US officials described as Beijing’s growing “propaganda.”
In a step likely to anger Beijing, the State Department told five outlets including the Xinhua news agency and the China Global Television Network that they will need to seek approval to buy any property.
They will also be required to submit lists of all employees, including the growing number of US citizens on their staffs, the State Department said.
The State Department said it would not impose any restrictions on Chinese media’s journalistic activities inside the United States.
State Department officials, who said they informed the outlets of the new rules Tuesday morning, described Chinese media as increasingly a tool of the state since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.
“There is no dispute that all five of these entities are part of the (Chinese) party-state propaganda news apparatus and they take their orders directly from the top,” an official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“We all know these guys have been state-controlled forever, but that control has gotten stronger over time, and it’s far more aggressive,” he said.
The official was mindful that China could take retaliatory action but said that Chinese journalists in the United States would “continue to enjoy our free and open system.”
“As you know, Western journalists already suffer very severe restrictions on their ability to do their jobs inside the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
The other three outlets targeted under the rules are China Radio International and the distributors of the official People’s Daily and English-language China Daily.
Growing clout of Chinese media
The US Justice Department has already pushed Chinese media outlets to register as foreign agents under separate regulations that require detailed filings of their activities.
While China Daily and China Global Television Network have complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, lawmakers last month complained that Xinhua has not followed through and questioned the government’s enforcement powers.
Such efforts are not without criticism: the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier voiced unease over the foreign agent registration, saying the US government should not determine which outlets are propaganda and noting that other governments often try to impose regulations on foreign civil society groups.
President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up pressure on China in an array of areas, from raising tariffs in a trade war to sharply criticizing Beijing’s incarceration of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.
In a strategy setting out national security priorities in December 2017, the Trump administration warned that US rivals will increasingly use “propaganda and other means to try to discredit democracy.”
Inside the United States, China has increasingly invested in English-language media, hiring native speakers to produce journalism that is often professional and polished when avoiding topics of sensitivity for Beijing.
A recent study by Freedom House, a US-backed research institute, found that China has sought to push through its message “sprinkled among run-of-the-mill posts about pandas, development projects and Chinese culture.”
Examples include emphasizing a terrorist threat from Uighurs and repeating debunked assertions that Hong Kong’s major pro-democracy protesters were armed, the study said.
China Daily’s spending in the United States has soared from $500,000 in the first half of 2009 to more than $5 million in the latter half of 2019, the study said, quoting required filings.
The growth has been more dramatic in the developing world, where China has offered attractive partnerships to provide content on television and radio.