Business News - Opportunities - Reviews
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering punishing Chinese journalists and state-run news organizations — as well as Chinese intelligence agencies — because of China’s decision to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters, American officials said on Monday.
Those actions could be partly aimed at limiting Chinese intelligence collection efforts in the United States by expelling journalists who have contact with intelligence agencies, people familiar with the discussions said.
“The United States condemns Beijing’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal foreign correspondents,” said John Ullyot, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council. “This expulsion is yet another attempt to control the press, and prevent the world’s readers as well as investors from reading important stories about China.”
“The United States is considering a range of responses to this egregious act,” he added.
Retaliation by the United States could lead to escalating cycles of retribution involving the two governments, private and state-run news organizations and intelligence agencies.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday that it was expelling the reporters in retaliation for a headline on a Feb. 3 Wall Street Journal opinion column: “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.” The column criticized China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
A Chinese reformer, Liang Qichao, coined the phrase “the sick man of Asia” in the late 19th century to describe the Qing dynasty, but Chinese officials argued after the column’s publication that it was an insult to the Chinese people and demanded that The Journal apologize.
A day before China’s announcement, the United States designated five Chinese state-run news organizations as official foreign government functionaries, subject to similar rules as diplomats stationed in the United States.
None of the reporters targeted by Beijing had anything to do with the column or its headline. Like most American newspapers, The Journal maintains a wall between its news-gathering operations and its editorial pages.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said on Wednesday that the government’s decision was “an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations by taking retribution against their China-based correspondents.”
The organization also said it was aware of nine foreign journalists who had been expelled or forced to leave China because of a nonrenewal of visas since 2013.
Mr. Ullyot noted that number in his statement on Monday. American officials were scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon in the White House to discuss recommendations on whether to expel Chinese journalists. Bloomberg News first reported on the scheduling of the meeting.
Among the administration’s concerns is a belief that, unlike American journalists, some of the Chinese journalists working for state-run news organizations in the United States are filing reports, at least part of the time, for Chinese intelligence agencies, according to people familiar with the matter.
They said many of the Chinese journalists suspected of having those ties occupied a hybrid role, with some accredited journalists possibly serving as full-time intelligence operatives.
While the journalists may regularly file news stories, they are believed to also be sending information and analysis back to Chinese intelligence agencies. If the journalists obtain exclusive information, they could be required by officials to provide the information to the agencies rather than write an article, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
In recent years, American officials have expressed growing concern over what they call Chinese influence and propaganda efforts in the United States. They have also increasingly scrutinized a variety of Chinese citizens — diplomats, journalists and scientists among them — for intelligence collection operations. In September, the United States secretly expelled two employees of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after the men and their wives drove onto a sensitive military base in Virginia. It appeared to be the first expulsion of Chinese diplomats in more than 30 years.
There are hundreds more visas given to Chinese journalists in the United States than there are accredited American journalists in China, U.S. officials said. As of Monday morning, the Trump administration was not considering an expulsion on that scale, officials said. An immediate wave of expulsions might include fewer than a dozen Chinese journalists, one official said.
Some U.S. officials have argued that expelling journalists runs counter to the American principle of freedom of the press.
Tensions between the United States and China have been high, largely because of President Trump’s trade war. The two countries reached an initial trade deal in December, but American national security officials have continued to push other nations to reject Chinese technology and infrastructure projects, arguing that they pose security risks.
President Xi Jinping of China has tightened limits on civil society and free expression since taking power in 2012. That includes greater clampdowns on foreign news organizations. Foreign journalists living in China usually get visas that allow them to have one-year residence permits, but in some cases that has been curtailed to a matter of months — to try to coerce the journalists not to report on issues such as the mass internment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
Matthew Pottinger, the chief deputy on the National Security Council, is a former reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s Beijing bureau. He has worked for three years on the council, most of the time as senior Asia director, and has been a proponent of aggressive policies toward China.
Two of the Journal reporters, Josh Chin, an American and the deputy bureau chief in Beijing, and Philip Wen, an Australian, flew out of Beijing on Monday. The third reporter, Chao Deng, an American, is in the coronavirus containment zone of Wuhan, where she had been reporting. She is unable to leave because of quarantine measures.
The Journal declined to comment on the journalists’ whereabouts.
The expulsions have led to an extraordinary reaction within The Journal. On Thursday, 53 reporters and editors at the newspaper, mostly in mainland China and Hong Kong, sent a letter to William Lewis, the chief executive of Dow Jones and the newspaper’s publisher, and Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled parent company of Dow Jones, criticizing the way that top editors handled the fallout over the Feb. 3 headline. It said the leaders should offer a formal apology.
Over the weekend, Mr. Lewis told the letter writers that he empathized with them but would not overrule editorial decision-making. He also pledged to continue pushing to get the expelled journalists’ credentials restored.
“I fully understand that the headline we published offended you, some of those closest to you, and many others,” he wrote in an email obtained by The New York Times. “I am sure that you understand why it is inappropriate for the company, or anyone else, to intervene in editorial matters.”
He added, “I take seriously the hurt many feel, but this is a complex situation, and the company is caught in a political crossfire.”
Marc Tracy contributed reporting from New York.
Business News - Opportunities - Reviews